I´ve wanted to post on the trip, but each time have backed away from it. It´s too hard - the sadness, the horror, the emotion. Not something I can approach with my normal style.
I´m sure anyone who´s done tours of battlefields, or even just tours of museums which have sections on wars, knows how emotionally draining it can be. We spent a week driving around the area, visiting cemetaries, memorials and museums. It was a lot to have to deal with and I spent most of the time battling a monstrous headache brought on by fighting down tears. There´s also truth in the idea that when it affected your family - although they were men I never met, men who died sixty years before I was born - it´s closer to home. I spent three months at the start of this year scanning, reading and cataloguing the hundreds and hundreds of letters, postcards, photos, diaries and documents of my three great uncles. One has the same initials as I do, which made me feel closer to him even as it freaked me slightly to see death notices with my name on them.
But even then the part that hit me hardest was finding a small envelope on which my grandfathers name was written in his shaky, scratchy handwriting. In it were carefully folded all the personal letters he´d recieved from his older brothers. The last he ever heard from them. Tucked away. Treasured. Only then did I realise that this preteen boy lost three of his big brothers. Over the space of two years. One after the other.
Visiting the graves of two, seeing the name of the third - buried on a roadside somewhere, grave lost - on a memorial... I had to turn off for a while. Make a few jokes, concentrate on taking some pretty pictures. Push away the image of my grandfather as a boy, reading and rereading these letters. The folds becoming worn, the envelope oft handled. Of young men in muddy, cold trenches, asking how the horses were and telling him to do his homework and be respectful of his teachers. While listening to shells explode and men die. Wondering when they´ll be sent over the top.