One hundred years ago

The first day of the battle of the Somme, the beginning of a phase of the war that would cost a million casualties, and change ‘Somme’ from Ruskin’s silky green chalk stream to a metonym for futile industrialised slaughter. Larks sang as I visited, on Day 4, the last battle line, and the Australian war cemetery there. Photos of my grandson arrived this morning from Australia, the country we almost moved to after the war. At the cemetery, I imagined the 2000 white gravestones multiplied two thousand times, spreading as far as the eye could see, for all the dead of the Great War. And there I was first aware of something that would keep coming to me on my journey – how war and occupation, battle and destruction, the tramp of alien feet, have marked the land, the memory, possibly even the soul, of France, in a way that never happened in England.

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