Saturday, 3 August 2013

Saddening and humbling - 'the guilty landscape'

I just received this from Chris Spreit who, as I reported in an earlier blog, is hard at work putting the finishing touches to his poetry anthology.  I thought I would share it with you - although, strictly speaking it is not about women who wrote poetry during WW1, there are many such in Chris's book.

This is what he sent:

I have just come across it while checking out a WW1 digital forum which I regularly go on.
The broadcast, in fact, is a follow-up item that has recently been shot as a sequel to an earlier item that dealt with the underground research which the famous British researcher Peter Barton executed in the vicinity of the Somme Hamlet of La Boisselle.
As I am sure you will all know, La Boisselle is in the neighbourhood of all those places where Edmund Blunden, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen saw action. La Boisselle is only a couple of kilometres away from Beaumont-Hamel, Mesnil, Pozières, Serre, Auchonvillers and the Lochnagar Crater... It was practically at the rim of those tragical developments of the First Day of July 1916, which annihilated several of the Pals battalions (incl. the boys from Accrington). 
Even if you do not understand the bits in Dutch, I am certain you will pick up the bulk of what the broadcast wants to drive home from the way that Mr Barton comments on his findings and his reflections. 
At one stage Barton explains that, owing to the fact that the underground listening tunnels stretched out into the No Man's Land from both sides, the men were forced to dig the ground with their hands lest they should be heard by the opponent.
The Dutch presenter goes on to describe the placid and peaceful surroundings as 'the guilty landscape', knowing that there was so much relentless fighting there, which left so much death hidden somewhere under French soil. This immediately made me think of the title of Margi's Edmund Blunden poetry volume, 'The Deceitful Calm'.
Isn't this deceitful calm a perfect synonym of that guilty landscape? And aren't the 'skeletons in the cupboard' still, no matter if this is 100 years on or not?

In a recent article on the Ypres Salient, I read that approximately 200,000 dead might still be somewhere, anywhere, below French and Flemish soil. How saddening a thought, isn't it, and how humbling at the same time..."

I agree with Chris's sentiments entirely - "saddening and humbling at the same time..."  Thank you so much Chris.

The Landscape

Mary Riter Hamilton was the Canadian artist who was commissioned by the Canadian War Amputees Association to travel to France and Flanders in early 1919 in order to paint what she saw of the immediate aftermath of the War. 

Mary spent three years there, living in a little tin hut among the Chinese civilian workers who helped clear away the mess.   Her paintings show clearly how that 'guilty landscape' looked once the fighting had ended.   Mother Nature is kind and constantly replenishes what we humans destroy.

Mary Riter Hamilton's paintings are held by the Canadian National Archives and some of them can be viewed at

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