Thursday, 3 April 2014

Picardy

It seems like a life-time since we left for France, but it's barely 24 hours! The trip has been simply wonderful; am almost perfect honeymoon, I'd say.

It's been another day of great coincidences. The kind of day when questions get answered by the universe almost as quickly as you ask them.

Take this morning, for example. As we travelled to Thiepval, Sara said how much she wished she'd photographed the wonderful man who'd shown us his phenomenal garden shed museum in Bus Les Artois and, bizarrely, just as we pulled unto the car park, we found the very same man standing there! It turns out that he works as a gardener for the Commonwealth War Grave Commission. So Sara got her picture after all!

There were other things too. At one stage I told the lads that I was convinced there were no Tills within the 72,000 names of missing British soldiers inscribed on the monument. I'm pretty sure I'd checked the last time we were there. It turns out that this isn't the case at all. We went to the official lists and discovered that there were actually three Tills, one of whom had died on my birthday in 1916.

And so it went on.

We had lunch in Albert; the same place we'd eaten in the night before, and in fact every night we were there with my parents in September.

The weather has been glorious throughout our trip; powder blue skies, almost burningly-hot sun. We sat outside our cafe today basking in the sunshine.

From Albert we went to the Beaumont Hamil memorial, a massive area of preserved trenches owned by the Canadian government and dedicated to the countless Newfoundland people who were killed there on the same day as the Leeds Pals, two miles further along the line, were themselves suffering unprecedented losses.

We had a guided tour, which was interrupted briefly by a low-flying single-seater aeroplane. For all of us it seemed almost as though there'd been a time slip. Almost 100 years before, enemy biplanes would have sailed above the trenches on reconnaissance missions.

Later still, we stood on an elevated platform, looking down across what had been no man's land. We stood in silence for some time, all thinking the same thought, which was finally articulated by Matt; "if only I could blink and see what it was recall like..."

From that elevated position we got a sense, the merest glimmer. A criss-crossing mesh of zig-zagging trenches which would have been filled with frightened people running, crouching, shouting. Thousands of shells and bullets relentlessly flying overhead. Noise. Confusion. Mayhem. A dreadful sunlit vision of hell.

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