Thursday, December 20, 2007

Reminders of War in the Hunting Field...

One of the interesting things about hunting in the north of France is that one constantly comes across reminders that the ground is consecrated and the flora fertilised by the blood of millions of men.

First are the names. Soissons, Chateau- Thierry, the Oise, the Aisne, the Marne. All names I heard as a child, from people who had not come here as tourists.

Then there are the memorials and cemeteries. Huge ones, of course- the American ones are immense, as are some of the French ones. It seems like every other sign directs one to the Carriere de l'Armistice.

In a way, even more powerful are what I call the solo pilot memorials. About a half dozen time this trip, I came upon these. They were all out in the woods, not signed or visible from a road, you wouldn't know they were there until you arrived. Each was modest and all different, probably put up by family, landowner, private subscription or local authority.

Each was to a single pilot who had crashed at that lonely forest spot. They gave details of name and date, sometimes a little more, but not much. The most elaborate, from 1940, still had the wig spar f the airplane there, with pictures of the pilot and his squadron. Trite but true, all so young.

Each one of these memorials was clearly being cared for by someone- they were cleared and clean. Whoever is doing t, thank you.

And then, there was this...

One day out hunting we barreled around a corner, up a road, and stopped. I stepped into the woods- right into a 105 howitzer firing pit. I looked left and right, and there were half a dozen. Across the road, another battery worth. Poorly sited, too- right along the road.

But they were still perfectly usable, all it would take would be cutting the trees that had grown up in them. I estimate these were from 1940, judging from those trees.

Just as spooky as could be.

I hope the men we gallop over rest in peace, if they can't share in the fun somehow. They made it possible after all- among his many awfulnesses, Hitler was an anti.

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