Last time

We got up early this morning and ate a brisk breakfast. Then we packed our bags and set out in a more or less dead straight line west-north-west towards the Channel ports. Our intention was to go by as direct a route as possible, while visiting two cemeteries where members of my family who died in the First World War are commemorated. Our route brought us onto what is presumably a Roman road, running in a dead straight line through Cambrai and la Capelle on the way to Arras. We didn't actually go all the way to Arras, as our first stop was at Vis-en-Artois British military cemetery. Despite the name, this graveyard is not in Vis-en-Artois, but in the neighbouring village of Haucourt. The relative of my father whose memorial we had come to see went missing in action, and so no grave in the vast cemetery bore his name. He may lie there though, for all we know, because many of the gravestones simply read:



At the back of the cemetery, beyond the hundreds of graves, is a white stone wall, with two large pylons set in it. From the road, the wall appears unmarked, but by the time one has walked two-thirds of the way through the graveyard, it becomes apparent that it is not. Every major vertical surface of the monument is covered in names, carved in letters two inches high, and closely packed. This is not even one of the great, famous memorials to the missing, like that at Thiepval or the Menin Gate at Ypres. Yet thousands of names are inscribed on it, each one a solider - or a seaman, like my relation - who went into battle and was never seen again.

Our second stop was at Béthune, where my grandfather's adoptive father is buried in the town cemetery, along with many others who died in the military hospital there. It took us a while to find the cemetery, since the directions we'd got from the Commonwealth War Graves website had been originally written in about 1920. We asked at the local bakery, but none of the four or five employees seemed to know the location of their town's large public cemetery. Eventually, we figured it out using a map in a bus shelter. The cemetery turned out to be so close to the bakery, the staff could have walked down there in a coffee break. The war graves were at the far end, past rank after rank of polished grey headstones with gold lettering, ostentatious family tombs with colour pictures, and several gothic mausoleums with plate-glass patio doors. It was almost a relief to reach the simplicity of the military section. The majority of those buried there - several thousand - were British, but there were also considerable numbers of French, and some German soldiers. Among the British dead were several Hindus, with distinctive bilingual headstones, and both French and British areas included several Muslims. One British officer had been Jewish. We found the grave we were looking for among the rows of similar, but far from identical British army headstones, each one carved with a regimental badge. After a few moments' reflection, we headed back, pausing by the memorial columbarium designed by Edwin Lutyens to look in the register. 'Died of wounds' said most of the records, including the one for the grave we had seen. We wondered if it was better to die slowly 'of wounds', but with some form of care, or suddenly on the battlefield. There is not easy answer.

Then we went on, to the Channel Tunnel terminal at Coquelles, near Calais. We spent our last Euros on brie salad sanwiches, which we ate on the train. The weather was not good, and we wondered what would happen to my brother's school trip, who were returning from Flanders by ferry at about the same time. Once we had got home and had a little dinner, we got an answer. They had been delayed by the high winds, and would be two hours late. This left us somewhat at a loose end for the next couple of hours, and I decided to read my email and log onto E2 after four days' absence. I was much too tired to node, however, and had work the next morning, which is why these four daylogs are so late.