A Sad Pilgrimage

Earlier this week, we were in Amiens, France, mainly to see the Somme battlefield of World War I. The Canadian government now owns and maintains the largest memorial to this battle. So when we stepped into this area, we were actually in Canadian territory! One student said she had never been to Canada before (!).

Sobering, impressive and horrifying would be my words for this memorial. The trenches are still clearly visible. Our guide pointed out where the German line had been as we stood near the edge of “No Man’s Land” on the Allied side. The statistics of the battle are horrific. The battle started on July 1,1914 and lasted through November of that year with very little territory gained even in those few months. July 1, 1914, was the bloodiest single day in British military history — 58,000 casualties (includes killed, wounded and missing).

Most of us remember learning about “trench warfare” somewhere in our schooling. The reality was worse than imaginable — the stench of dead bodies and unwashed live ones, living in mud that could suck the boots off a man’s feet, suffering from “trench foot” and “trench fever.” We hiked to a small village that had been occupied by the Germans during both World Wars, and around to a crater blown in the ground by 27 tons of explosives set off by the World War I Allies in hopes of surprising the Germans and gaining ground. It didn’t work.

Clockwise from left: looking out to No Man's Land; original stanchions from barbed wire; students in the trenches
Clockwise from left: looking out to No Man’s Land; original stanchions from barbed wire; students in the trenches

A sad pilgrimage, especially as so many today can see so little reason for World War I, the humiliating settlement of which is commonly agreed to have set the stage for the Nazi rise in Germany and World War II just 21 years later. Unimaginable what the French living in those villages went through in the first half of the 20th century!

Nowadays the fields are being harvested, the cows and sheep are grazing, the little villages look prosperous and peaceful. I always think of that Bible verse : “Every man beneath his vine and fig tree shall live in peace and unafraid.” (Micah 4.4) I truly believe that is God’s desire for every person.

Speaking of the terrible results of war, we also saw the makeshift refugee tent city that has sprung up outside of the ferry area in Calais. Thousands of people live there, waiting to get across the Channel to England. There are very large double security fences with razor wire and yet we saw a few men who apparently had made it through and were heading for the ferry area with police behind them. Heartbreaking to see as we rode in the comfort and security of our coach.

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