|Detail of Thiepval Memorial, Picardie|
Euston Road Cemetery was peaceful yes, but there was a strong wind, just as there was when I first visited it, in 2011. Like a reminder. Wind as presence, wind as monitor, wind as scribe too. Commentator. You won’t forget, not with this wind.
We drive on to Beaumont-Hamel where it is still windy, sun still shines. The fields and trees are green, their branches spread out wide and even. The trenches are green too, so different from how they must have looked 100 years ago. They curve, wind and zigzag between conifers and lime trees, planted since then, since 100 years ago.
The wind is here too, messenger and marker, the carrier of memories – some picked up, some delivered to your door, some distributed through all your cells, not just brain or sight or hearing, but through fingers, through the light hairs on your skin that react without your volition, before you have time to tell yourself it is just imagination.
And it’s gone.
And we go on to the Thiepval Memorial, thick and squat and solid. Dense as the forest of lives it names, those whose bodies were not found. On a slight rise, looking out over a valley. In a way, it offers shelter and support and it is vaulted like a place of prayer but it is also open to the sky.
Is it always windy in these places? The air howls and whistles around the dense, defiant towers. Red brick, furious. Golden sandstone, compassionate.
Does the wind always blow so hard, does it always moan and sing here as if the brickwork and stones form an instrument it blows through, a giant reed the air presses itself against, to produce this chanting and these rhythms and this song?
On to Albert where we stayed the night, with an excellent meal at the Hotel Basilique just across the road from the Church Notre Dame des Brebières where we saw an unexpected treat in the evening – a light show projected against the wall of the Basilique. This year 2018 is of course the anniversary of the 1918 armistice and it is being marked in many ways across France.
Sons et lumières by Video Mapping Festival are being shown in different regions and it just happened to be in Albert that week. It depicted the destruction of the Basilique in the war and the legend that when Our Lady fell from the top, (it happened in 1918) that would mean the end of the war.