Thiepval: Somme (Battleground Europe)
By Michael Stedman
Publisher: Pen & Sword Books 1997 190 Pages
PDF 101 MB
The experience of war at Thiepval moved many men to write with an authority and power which the passage of time has not in any way diminished. Anticipating the distant future whilst writing in 1929 Charles Douie, who fought at Thiepval, wrote that, "For many years to come stray travellers will revisit the ground where once they fought and endured, where many of their friends lie for ever. But the time must come when the travellers are seen no more, and only the forest of graves above the Ancre will remain to tell the tale of that island race whose sons once were lords of these woods and fields." Today the different interpretations which people, who often have no experience of conflict, place on such words can mean that Douie's understanding of the war can seem out of place in a Europe changed far beyond those distant soldier's imaginings. However, it would be an ill advised person who sought to avoid the many and varied lessons of history. Those who claim that "the path to the future is not through the past" often come to regret such words. By the same token there is of course no golden age to which we can or should return, but to shun consideration of the bleakest or best episodes in man's experience will only breed falsity and weaken the foundations of the future.
In this context Thiepval is one of life's finest classrooms and it is possible to see many visiting groups and individuals sampling the extraordinary history here. A common failing of many such visits is a tendency to 'do' too much. First stop Serre, then Newfoundland Park and onto Thiepval for lunch, followed by la Boisselle, Pozieres and the Butte de Warlencourt before returning to the hotel in Arras, exhausted and perhaps little the wiser! And tomorrow will be Ypres. Yet such places are powerful, evocative and emotionally exhausting, especially for the young upon whom they can make a great impression. To skimp them is like 'doing' Westminster Abbey in five minutes. To trivialize by rushing will simply undermine what could be learned. You cannot marvel at, learn from and treasure the new understanding of something when you are exhausted, and the Somme battlefield is no exception. Much better to halve your itinerary and manage the time you can have here sensibly. Get to know this magnificent location of Thiepval in depth. Let careful observation and thoughtful questioning reveal all of the many layers of fact, insight and interpretation to yourself, your school party or your family and friends.