Sunday, 8 November 2015

Journey to the Somme

From Looking for Private Smith, written 2012-13

......Gare du Nord. I enquire about reservations for the trains to Albert. I don't need them, the trains are not TGV, they are regional, TER trains.  I take a train to Amiens, where I change for the train to Albert. As the morning gets lighter, the sky is bleakly grey. The trains pass through a landscape weighed upon by grey and heavy skies. But somewhere between Amiens and Albert, the sun comes out. When I come out of Albert station, it's windy, but the sun is bright in a clear sky.

....The flat countryside, the light sharp as lemon stung my eyes and it became blurred, all these green fields, stripped trees, with waving needles of dark branches, and the ploughed earth the colour of damp sand. As if the sea could not be far away, you know this because of the gentle gradient of fields, the colour and texture of the earth, the way sand looks just after the sea has left, and turned into horizon.

The light becomes piercing, flicked like metal over the fields, the grass, like light metallic plates bumping into each other, faint and irregular bells, throwing reflections, echoes, and this strange clutching feeling in me, as I walk through the rows of stones and there are several people there which I did not expect. I'd imagined such a silence, such an emptiness, a contemplation and stillness, not this clashing orchestra of wind and sharp light, and these people who it seemed, were going about some normal daily task, in the middle of this preternaturally wild and walled off place.

But I knew which area to go to, the plan of the cemetery was on the website and I'd studied it beforehand. And even though I enlisted the help of these other people because I could not ignore them and to one of them I told my story yet again and he set off to look as well and I was saying the letter G and the wind whipped at least half of the sounds I made out of my mouth, so no wonder the poor man did not understand. But I found Area 1 and row G and some way along the row there he was, or there was, rather, the stone engraved with his name, regiment and number and date of death and I shout out to the man, I've found him, I've found it, it's here, je l'ai trouvé, voilà, je l'ai trouvé..... 

I spoke to the man who had been helping me to find the stone. He said this is what he and the others did, this was their job, they were the gardeners, they cut the grass, trimmed and tended these plots of ground, removed the weeds.



Forest Dream Weaver said...

Another place another time ...... glad you found him.
I have a few postcards relating to my grandfather's time there, perhaps you'd like to see them sometime.

dritanje said...

I often think of him, especially at this time of year. Yes, I would very much like to see the postcards you have.