My morning reading over coffee this morning was Ronald Blythe's report of visiting the First World War battle fields at Passchendaele. He writes of approaching the area and then suddenly seeing the whole of Flanders Fields - twenty miles or more - stretched out in front of him. He calls it "The Terrible Landscape of the First, Second and Third Ypres." Then he goes to the Menin Gate to hear the bugle sounded at 8pm as it does every night in memory of the dead. Half a million young men killed in such a useless war.
He returns home to write an introductory passage to a diary kept by one of these men, Ernest Goodridge. Ernest knew that in the giant scheme of the battles he would not return home and in his diary and letters home he tries to prepare his parents for his inevitable death. He talks about the comradeship, the shocks and the surprises. One which I found amazing is that of a young teenage West Indian Christian who apologises to Ernest for being black. Ernest is appalled - quite rightly so - but it does throw some light on attitudes in those days. He speaks of the man's beautiful eyes. Later a German dog runs between the lines, loved and petted by both sides. He speaks in his diary of the birds and the flowers being exactly the same as at home. His body lay undiscovered for nine days.
When the telegram arrived, as Ernest knew it would one day, his mother (devout Methodist) asked the minister to read David's Lament for Saul and Jonathan in memory of the comradeship.
Wars, wars, wars - is there ever a time when there is not a war, when men are not killing men and women somewhere in the world.
My brother and my late first husband were both in the Second World War (maybe one of the few wars that was justifiable). My brother was at the relief of Belsen, my husband on the Death Railway as a prisoner of the Japanese. In both cases they rarely spoke of it after the war had finished. I suppose you either let it break you completely or you put it to the back of your mind and got on with life. Brave men both.
And when I walk round my local Tesco's every Tuesday morning I pass strapping young men, many of whom will have done at least one tour in Afghanistan and probably Iraq too. Often they are pushing their babies in the trolley, or carrying them on their shoulders - these young men, often barely out of their teens - what sights they have seen, what horrors they have witnessed, yet they appear to be getting on with life too. It may not be the mud of Passchendaele,but the vast seemingly empty, sandy plains of Afghanistan and the majestic mountains in the background - scenes of quite incredible beauty spoiled by a hideous war. Oh yes, when will they ever learn?