Intellectually speaking, Sunlight is a dangerous and uncomfortable thing. In the cave allegory the light mediated by people and the information given indirectly has that degree of collective certainty that while you’re helped up the slope to the Light you’re expected to experience that light for oneself; cleanly. History and the writing of history is if anything more prone than other study of human endeavour to mistaking reflected light generated by other people for that from the Sun. And while this reflected light is better than nothing, it should never be mistaken for anything else, and certainly nothing pure. Why does this matter. Well, a bit like that BP oil-well rupture in the Gulf where the spinning from the US government and the company was truly prodigious. But anyone that looked beyond the propaganda would realise that a dinner plate sized hole a mile below the surface would NEVER be plugged rapidly for you cannot grasp a bar of soap in you own bath with one attempt. You’d have to wonder what dimwitted nincompoop would repeat verbatim without saying it out loud to their dog. Or with Afghanistan, the troops were never going home for Christmas no matter how quickly the Taliban ceased to exist.
But there are other accepted facts that are much harder to analyse with a degree of objectivity. Those inserted under the age of ten; the fact facts. The foundation facts. The facts that are almost a sense.
The First World War belongs to many people. Even people like me who feel it the one Great civilisation tragedy, mostly because it was a war fought seventy years to late on issues that were dead by then. Even the Irish who dismissed the existence of those that fought in that war for selfish political purpose have a stake. And even to those that are professional in their mawkish devotion. But few grasp the meaning that equal that of the War poets.
From Tyne Cot Kristine’s sat-nav directed us to some more war cemeteries within the Ypres Salient bringing us back to the town of Ypres to tuck into a delightful supper while we watched the town wind down for the evening. We then walked about the town centre. Looking at the rebuilt cloth hall, the Cathedral and the town generally. And you’d have to say they did a darn fine job of it for one would never know that the entire place was obliterated. Towards 19:30 we ambled to the Menin Gate which was filling up with people. Each evening that street is blocked to traffic for about twenty minutes while the fire brigade of Ypres blow the Last Post for those that gave their lives in defence of their town.
This structure is held up with the names of the missing up to 15 August 1917. 54,896 of them.
When you add to this the names from Tyne Cot you get eighty-nine thousand eight hundred and eighty men missing in a distance less than most of us take to get our weekly shopping.
I was over in Belgium mainly to visit Kristine and her family and secondly to have a look at that part of Europe, not to do a tour of the WWI battlefield. But the effect on both of us was profound. Not immediately though. And in a very unexpected way. I went on the CWGC web and Kristine did the same for Belgium. We found sixty-eight names listed as dead or missing in that stretch of land that neither of us had ever heard about. We had walked past them and never knew they were there. So by the end of November of that year I was back in Belgium where we went to each and planted Skimmia over each grave we could find. Twelve of them. The rest of them are on the walls of the Menin Gate,Tyne Cot and in the books held in the Peace Tower. But at least members of the family that carried their name visited them. Something that might never have happened before.