I always knew the Great War of 1914 to 1918 was different than World War II but now I understand just exactly why it was so vastly different. However, after visiting several museums, multiple monuments and walking through half a dozen Commonwealth and German cemeteries I am no further ahead in understanding exactly what this war was all about? What carnage. What senselessness. Was it just political miscommunication and mishap?
Here is a Great War Canadian Cemetery....
Walking through these cemeteries is quite different to the WWII cemeteries around Normandy. Besides the greater number of lost souls, I was struck by the number of unmarked graves. Many of the graves mark more than a single unnamed soldier. Other graves name a soldier 'believed to be' a specific man, rank or regiment or a soldier from a specific country. If only a torso was found, or a single limb how can one identify the dead? So many of these young men were just blown to pieces. What carnage one would witness to look over these battlefields. It is no wonder media and photographers were restricted from taking pictures of this horror.
We stayed in Butterworth Bed and Breakfast where the battles of the Somme took place. Last year, they dug up the partial skeletal remains of 2 soldiers - 3 femurs which is 2 unknown soldiers. They were able to determine one of these men was Canadian but despite modern day DNA testing officials could not precisely ascertain the identity. Again, "Believed to be....".
Imagine what it must have like for the mothers, fathers, wives and family to never have a marked grave to your loved one? This is one of the "lucky ones".....these gravesites have family coming to pay their respects even today.
Bodies continue to be found today almost 100 years later. Residents unearth artillery shells, trench screws (to fix barbed wire in front of the trenches), guns, helmets and various artifacts every day. In the Ypres and Passchendale area, 200 tons of shells and artillery are dug up every year through the simple daily act of a farmer working his field. It is a daily occurrence and the people in these communities continue to live and breathe the history of this war even today.
We stayed at another wonderful B & B called Varlet Farm in Ypres area. Charlotte is an extremely knowledgeable self taught historian and expert on the Great War after decades of working and farming this land. She is passionate about this subject and in this picture below is giving an informative lecture to a group of British Cadets on a field trip. Note the pile of artifacts found around their farm. These artifacts await pick up from the local "Bomb Squad". This unit is responsible for ensuring the appropriate disposal and discharge of all artillery and shells. Twice daily, at a specific time of day, the officials discharge live shells so as not to scare the locals of these communities.
Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, has 11,956 graves. The Memorial Wall bears the names 34,85723 men whose graves are unknown but perished in the Ypres Salient.....
And another evening we attended The Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate in Ypres which is held every evening at 8 pm.
We would not be Canadian if we had overlooked the poignant Vimy Ridge......