I don't know where it started or why, but I have long had a fascination with the First World War. I read the best historians--Alistair Horne, Lyn MacDonald, and John Keegan--plus some of the best fiction accounts by Erich Maria Remarque, Jonathan Hull, Herri Barbusse and others. It wasn't just a war, it was a cataclysm.
Finally we went to France and Belgium.
This is just one monument of dozens, this one to honor 73,000 unknown dead. More than the monuments and cemeteries I wished to walk the ground. To see where so many died, to see where, for four years the armies faced each other in a static battle of attrition.
I was not disappointed. One farmer kept his fields exactly how they were, with trenches and bomb craters intact.
It was amazing. Plus there were displays of artifacts--rifles, cannon, uniforms and so so many personal effects. Bombs and books, letters and grenades, barbed wire and bottles. We saw a group of army recruits paying respects to fellow soldiers. We saw fat cows grazing where thousands perished.
I was, as I expected, moved. Even now, weeks later, I try to plumb the depths of my emotion, my wonder, horror and disenchantment. I will say to anyone, you should go. Visit Flanders and the Somme. Pay your respects. The history of these places deserve nothing less.