I never gave much thought to the First World War. Sure I learned about it in history class but our interest in history would have been Irish history and while we did cover WW1 I don’t remember talking very much about the loss of life suffered by the thousands of Irish men who fought in The Great War.They fought for a variety of reasons – many fought to put food on the kitchen table, others for the promise of Home Rule yet others fought for the Crown and ‘the freedom of small nations’. I guess we were ambivalent about it at best. Yet almost 50,000 Irishmen lost their lives in the most inhumane conditions imaginable.
In 2010 I was fortunate, along with my youngest son Ronan, to have the opportunity to cycle from Canterbury to Rome along an ancient pilgrimage route, The Via Francigena. That was an amazing experience in so many different ways but perhaps the most unexpected was that it brought WW1 right into the present day for both of us. Our planning hadn’t factored in that we would be cycling through areas of France that were in the front line of battle. It was a shock to the system to suddenly come across, on Monday 6th September, small beautifully kept cemeteries along the 60kms of backroads of France between Arras and Peronne.
We stopped and paid our respects at each little graveyard and it was one of the most emotional places and moving things I have ever done. It really brought home the futility of war to walk among row after row of identical white memorial headstones and read the ages of these teenage soldiers who all died in vain, for the nations of Europe were to repeat those mistakes again and again.
I’ve edited out a little video clip at the end of this blog post of our visit to one of the cemeteries as a gesture of remembrance for all the dead on both sides and the civilians who were caught up in this most brutal conflict.
It was lovely to see how well maintained all the cemeteries were.
This post is to mark the one hundred anniversary of Armistice Day and to help us not forget.
Four years later I was back in France and cycling in the Lyon area and I went astray taking what turned out to be a very long shortcut! But it was very interesting and I came across a WW2 graveyard as poignant as coming across the WW1 graveyards in 2010. But this was even more surprising for this was a cemetery for almost 20,000 German soldiers at a place called Dagneux.