Monday, October 17, 2016

Down with Hedges and Walk a Mile in My Shoes

The vanguard of this winter's grayling anglers arrived earlier this week and two up from Devon enjoyed surprisingly good sport with fish to a pound and a half off the top in the afternoon. It isn't easy as the river remains down to its bare bones and I have deferred putting the thing to bed for the winter in order to provide as much cover and protection for what sexually mature brown trout remain from a burgeoning population of avian predators. Heron and Little Egret mostly, both of which can cause carnage to a fish population seeking to spawn in clear shallow water. We've had a reasonable amount of rain this week but not enough to lift the river. The ditch to the earth stew ponds remains dry and would not function as a salmonid rearing unit should we still be in that game. It's the same on many other rivers in the south, a couple of grayling anglers reported that the Frome was in a similar state, but I am constantly surprised by the number of people who express surprise that the river is low, particularly some who are paid considerable sums of money to be across such matters.

Hedges play a big part of Autumn life in this parish and at this point could I make the case for brick walls, fences or white lines as the future of boundary demarcation. Yes the birds, yes the hogs and yes the fashion for being dragged through the thing backwards, but even in my current athletic prime I'm struggling to conquer some of the arboreal leviathans that hem this place in. Come on Science, surely in this age we can come up with some digital alternative to what is, a medieval solution to keeping the cattle in.

Can we all agree that this kind of thing has had its day and sign up to a campaign for more virtual hedges (sorry Packham and Oddie et al) donations can be made at www.justgiving/hedgesareoldhatfencesarethefuture.

For those who have visited here, the hedge that borders the gravel yard is over twenty feet wide at the top and you'll be aware of how long my arms are and how far my chest has slipped, so forgive my ire, as for eleven and a half months of the year hedges are good things.

With the onset of Autumn everything also seems to be reluctant to lose their green hues, stingers are still stinging in the wood and we still see the odd swallow and martin

Apparently Ed Balls is a real person, and not a training ground routine favoured by some of the neanderthals who populate a game that is now only occasionally beautiful.

Call me a conspiracy theorist but the BBC seem very keen to promote Ed's cause and hey Comrade Jez expect another challenge to your leadership soon, that or the genesis of an alternative political party occupying the centre left with Ed very much to the fore.
I don't think this is what I pay my licence fee for, but Rupert uses my sky subscription to further his many cases with politicos so we are where we are,

which I seem to find myself saying with increasing regularity these days, and if presented with an opportunity to pick up this river along with family and friends and retreat to an island and pull up a drawbridge, I'd take it like a shot, as the pattern of voting on the BBC's flagship hoofathon and the tone of the jungle drums worldwide point to poisonous times ahead.

Anyway, Ed Balls: hubristic hopeless hoofer who many in the media and particularly at the BBC, seem keen to promote.

I shall attend to Chairman May in the weeks to come, but in the interim if anyone wants to start a political party on the basis of let's be sensible, all get along, look up not down and have a bit of fun, then I'm in.

Sandi Toksvig's got some good ideas, why can't she have a go?

Regular visitors to this parish will be aware of my propensity to ramble, so when Madam suggested that we undertake such an activity at the weekend I retorted that I was a seasoned campaigner in the business.

I was presented with a cagoule and knapsack and a withering look and detailed to source a compass, gators and buff up on my valderi, valdera as we were about to go hardcore with regard to all things left foot, right foot.

Now I'll confess that in my youth, I was quite the walker.

Mostly through scouts and the Cheshire Hike, a two day county competition for teams of two carrying 25kg each over thirty odd miles that my mate and I somehow managed to win at the age of fourteen.
A group of us, madam included, once pushed a supermarket trolley from the north west to marble arch to raise money for Save the Children and if I rocked up at a student party and didn't approve of proceedings I'd think nothing of walking up to ten miles home in the early hours. Yes I was quite the walker, and feel justified in stating that I've ticked that box. Not that I'd want to give up walking altogether, just unnecessary walking,

but what Madam was suggesting was recreational.

Golf without the sticks, fishing without the rods, football without a ball,

madness had surely taken hold.

Anyway the case was made that accompanying Madam on her meanderings coupled with the sustained consumption of red wine, dark chocolate and bifidus digistibum meant that those misspelt invitations to our hundredth wedding anniversary party (should have been tenth) may come in handy one day if we walked far enough. Exercise is important at our time of life apparently.

Chilbolton and its' common with requisite commoners last week, a gentle stroll on even ground, knapsack free in full sun and home in time for a late Sunday lunch. Which was nice and a few more years in the bank. .

Further afield this week. We're building up to hills, so opted for a canal side trek that guaranteed level ground. The Kennet and Avon canal to be precise. Leaving our car at a railway station on the GWR line we set off towards our destination of Hungerford and train ride back to what all agree is the best mode of getting from A to B, the motor car.

Roped together our party consisted of myself, madam and Otis. Otis expecting his usual half hour walk was a spent force thirty five minutes in and tried to stymie our progress by walking slowly in front of us on a narrow tow path. After an hour and a bit he fell/threw himself into the canal and had to be pulled out. After two and a bit hours Hungerford appeared like an oasis in the desert and our spirits were restored by provender that included cheese and sauvignon blanc.

We caught the train back, which was free.

We tried to buy a ticket but there was no obvious machine and no guard on the train. We spoke to the driver and he implored us to "just get on" which seemed a little free and easy. We have subsequently made the retrospective purchase of two tickets as neither of us could sleep that night which we attributed to guilt rather than aching limbs and sore feet.

Today we have purchased proper walking shoes, and next weekend we march on Nepal,

Or possibly another section of level canal

I'm quite happy to emerge from hiking retirement but on condition that we exchange the dried food, survival bags and compass work. for regular stops, light conversation and fine fare (not you George Cowley) at the close.

Lawks, I'm a rambler

However did it come to this?

Oops, forgive my forgetfulness, The Fleet Hotel in Temple Bar is the place to stay if you ever happen to find yourself in Dublin, we look forward to our stay next month and also in February.

That's The Fleet Hotel Folks

If any other establishments out there would like to exchange a complimentary room for a series of peppy reviews and the odd mention on here, don't be a stranger.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Marvin Gaye and the Stuff of the Duce

Morning everyone,

Yes morning, and an early one at that.

Was woken by a text at 5.00am from someone called the Taxman informing me that I had overpaid by£198,25 in 2015 and could I click on the link to provide bank account details and reclaim my booty.

I didn't, as a quick check of the number revealed that it was someone from Russia, possibly the lady who sent me one of my very first emails in the heady days of Compuserve and our excellent dial up internet connection, and proposed marriage and could she have my home address in order to come and talk about table decorations, wedding lists and where her relatives would be staying. My betrothed appears to have been in touch most weeks since with all manner of proposals and repeated requests for bank account details and photographs diverted off to my junk mail.

I'd turn the phone off, but both of our near neighbours are ladies who live alone and may need assistance at some point in the night so I may have to change my mobile number if Babushka persists with her early morning messages.

Anyway, I'm up now and I can hear a fox barking outside, probably the same b~#%$3 thing that killed all of our hybrid chickens and Khaki Campbell ducks one night last week, only took one away but killed the rest for fun.

I'm on your case Toby

We've bought some replacements (chooks not foxes), eight five week old hybrids in a partridge pen by the woodshed with a security light and a security door on the hen house. I like keeping chooks, and one day we'll end up living somewhere where it will not be possible to keep them so I'm making the most of the opportunity now. I find them very soothing, there's something very satisfying about keeping a fit fat hen who gives the gift of an egg most days, but we are a few months away from any ouefs emerging from this bunch of raw recruits.

Up the river the opening skirmishes of Autumn are already underway. Much of the weed in the water is on the wane but there is noticeably less blanket weed than one would expect in low water which suggest that the quality of what water is flowing down the Dever is of a better quality and carries less nutrients than twelve months ago.

Trout fishing closed this week.

An OK season with numbers up on the last, which was the hardest I have experienced during my time here. Hatches of fly have been a little disappointing during the second half although the mayfly continues to be spectacular each year. The final week saw fish a little more active as they prepare to spawn and on the final day a brace of chunky lumps around the three pound mark were put on the bank. Our first fishermen targeting the grayling arrive next week. The grayling have been reasonably active and several have been caught off the top in recent weeks by trout fishermen.

Once again there is a lot of chainsaw work to attend to this winter both on and away from the river, plus another bridge that needs replacing

and we may have to attend to some of the big ash trees that have looked very ill all summer, there are a couple in particular that could be dangerous if allowed to lose limbs next summer.

We have enough wood stacked up for the next few winters but extra ash is always welcome, although I don't know how much ash will be going into wood burners in twenty years time because this "die-back" disease has got a grip very quickly in this part of the valley.

And so to the parley with the big noises from command centre central.

And there's a tale to rival that of King Caractacus that culminated in our meeting which I think is best not recorded here, feel free to enquire directly but be warned, the reply may be lengthy and a little fruity with regard to language.

Anyway the Senior adviser on fishery strategy for the South East and a member of the regional team arrived to discuss our concerns over the reduced number of sexually mature brown trout (and other species) in the river.

And so a fun two hours passed, both sides giving of their best,

C de Cani HND, Hants FA Groundsman of the year 2011 v the two Dr's of Fish and their environs.

and hey all you brim full of internet enlightenment having wallowed in some such website or forum who like to send anonymous emails calling me out as a fishery management dinosaur or wrecker of the aquatic habitat, how's this for a review?

here's part of the letter from Dr Fishery Strategist for the South East after his visit:

"I was very impressed with the way you manage the river, trees and marginal vegetation with both angler and fish in mind"

We have approval for a small broodstock scheme, the details of which will be finalised in the coming months, and will hopefully help restore numbers of fish in the river to the levels experienced five years ago.

Thank you Dr Perri and Dr Kerry for coming out to have a look, listen to our case and for offering advice. A refreshing change in tone from the supercilious one that prevailed five to ten years ago, feel free to pop back any time.

Fracking now, and here we are with an economy to stimulate and an increased requirement for energy. Every effort will be made to push applications through.

We have two sites in this river's catchment owned by a fracking company and an official designation as a low risk area ???????????

If in a few years time my county council choose to oppose a proposal to frack in this valley and it is subsequently overruled by parliament (how does that sit with the push for devolved power to the regions?), I shall draw inspiration from 1605 and while it may be difficult to roll barrels full of gunpowder across parliament square and down a conveniently open cellar door, I shall certainly fire some rockets in their direction or at the very least throw a few stones at the windows.

Nationalist politicians having a punch up in parliament, the newspaper headline "BUSINESSES REQUIRED TO LIST FOREIGN EMPLOYEES" and a school sending out letters asking for confirmation of each child's birthplace and nationality.

It's the stuff of Il Duce,

Only it isn't because these were all events that took place last week.

and at this point I'll assume the guise of Marvin Gaye,

What's going on?

Come on Tim Peake, we paid for you to go to space to point a few things out to us down here on the mother ship, speak up please.

Oh yes, almost forgot, how's this for a stat?

The crew on Nelson's flagship - Victory, at the battle of Trafalgar was drawn from over twenty nations.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Inbetweeners do Wainwright and further Hackneyed Phrasing

Regular visitors to this parish will acknowledge that hackneyed phrasing is a given, so here goes with another oft repeated line:

Crikes! where did all the water go?

I can feel another bit of hackney coming on,

I can't believe the speed at which the river has dropped during the past month.

You will be aware of a disregard for official figures particularly those regarding quantity and quality of water, because they are mostly made up, or adjusted to suit some other agenda (normally big business and the bottom line) But here's a FACT (Thank you to Rafa Benitez for ensuring that this word is now forever written in capitals) if we were still using our earth ponds to produce brown trout, the fish would have been moved elsewhere several weeks ago because there isn't enough water for the ponds to function as a unit for rearing salmonids. The twelve inch pipe that used to feed water through to the fish is higher than the water level of the river.

This has not been the case during my time falling in and out of this river.

Hackneyed phrase number three is imminent,

We need a lot of rain in the south this winter.

Thankfully the wallahs at command centre central are on to this and last week issued a press release warning of a diminishing water supply in the south of England and could we all be a little less profligate with the old eau.

Although we are now entering the silly season regarding rain with DJ's and Journos bemoaning a grey day and drizzle and don't expect anyone to put a positive spin on a spell of wet weather in the south of England at any point this winter.

Fishing remains hard. I was kindly invited to fish the Anton earlier this week and goodness the fish were spooky. I managed a couple of grayling off the top on a red tag but like here on the Dever most fish were bunched up in holes, spook one and they all go off in a nervy spaz.

Fish have been caught this week including one brown trout of two and a half pound that had the body length of a three pounder, which is a worry as there shouldn't be thin fish about at this time of the year. Hatches of fly early on in the season were reasonable although like Liverpool of late with their high energy pressing game they have tailed off a tad during the second half.

We still have House Martins about, although most of the swallows and swifts have exited stage left and we also have an early egret stalking the shallows. We retain a quorum of swans, but not far downstream several beats have been hit hard by high numbers of Gielgud who played fast and loose with river restoration work and much replanted ranunculus has been plucked from the river bed.

All this river restoration work driven by habitat directive is highly commendable and hopefully the funding will continue to be available post Brexit but forgive my ignorance, as I am but a stupid riverkeeper, but shouldn't a holistic approach to habitat management attend to all areas of the chalk stream environment.

Which brings me to a tale to rival the Court of King Caractacus that began with a Fishery Management Consultation (expert advice for no little fee and brim full of your rewilding) upstream from here five or so years ago and will hopefully reach a conclusion following a meeting with some big noises from command centre central in a few weeks time. I'll not furnish you with the details just yet as I'd prefer to keep my powder dry for said meeting in early October. But it concerns the dramatic decline in numbers of sexually mature fish of all species in the river.

I'll report the outcome of what will hopefully be a productive meeting, early next month and the river's fish population will make preparation to return to the level recorded in command centre central surveys five or so years ago.

Oh yes, the storm.

A tremendous panjandrum that rolled around the valley for four hours one night last week. Many parts missed it, but for the following twenty four hours the river ran eight inches higher and assumed the colour of the Grand Union Canal. Not the best kind of rain as not much gets down into the aquifers, lots of branches were forced to dip and bow and a day later all the water had flowed away (Oh for a series of hatches to retain water on a meadow to soak back into an aquifer) but quite a weather event (I believe this is the current meteorological parlance) all the same.

In other news, I was once again required to cook a pig for the cricket club presentation evening, which to date, passed without serious illness, and we received news that my parents had been press ganged in the back streets of Glasgow and were held on a boat making its way east along the English Channel. We intercepted the sloop and boarded at Portsmouth. It was quickly established that they had in fact signed up of their own accord.

We took rum and hard tack

but then scurvy set in

and we were forced to seek out some vitamin C/cake/sausage rolls/ prawns in batter for dippin.

They were on a Saga cruise to infinity and beyond, and we were invited aboard as guests.

They're a canny bunch the Saga crew, our clubcard points , internet history or some other paper trail has betrayed the fact that we are only eighteen months away from qualifying for membership of the club and are trying to tempt us with a ship full of food.

At home, Child A has purchased a pink car and continues her work for Thames Valley Police. It sounds a little gritty at times, especially the Saturday night shift, although there are lighter moments. I don't think I could do it, as I am sure that with a distraught person on the other end of the phone I'd try to lighten the mood a little with some such nonsense or other, which is not what is required apparently.

Child B has transferred to Cardiff for his final year. Here he is on the left with the rest of his Cardiff crew climbing a mountain in Wales. It's a bit like Inbetweeners do Wainwright, with neither a carabiner, compass, freeze dried food or survival bag in sight.

This is not how I remember scaling mountains in Wales,

Welsh mountains may not be as high as they used to be.

The lady who sleeps on my left has just returned from the biennial school trip to Highclere castle with the scathing indictment,

"They couldn't give a fig about school trips ticking the Egyptology curriculum box now they've got Downton"

So keep an eye out on ebay for treasures from Tutankhamun, particularly from the seller 1922Carnavon

And there we go, two weeks left of the season and a long list of tasks and trees to be attended to this winter. We've a couple more trips away to look forward to in coming months, one of them complimentary, and at that this point I'll warn you to expect a hard sell for a particular establishment in the coming months. For the purity of the piece I've turned down several requests to place adverts in and around this guff,
but with the years proceeding and an erratically performing personal pension pot (more of a crucible than a pot) I've sold my soul for a complimentary overnight stay with dinner and breakfast in one of Dublin's top hotels in Temple Bar (the pitch starts her folks) to take in David O'Doherty (one of our favourite comedians) at Vicar St Theatre (one of our favourite venues, no really, that last bit was sincere it is a terrific place to watch comedy) later this year - report to follow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A whistle stop tour of the Ypres Salient

Further Parish Messages.

2: A report on our whistle stop tour to the Ypres Salient.

Like last year's overnight visit to the Somme I feel compelled to write something down, for my own sake if nothing else as I don't want to forget.

You may agree with what you are about to read, you may not,

I'm not particularly bothered either way as this is an honest account of how I felt twenty four hours after our visit to the fields of Flanders.

A little self indulgent perhaps but no clever conclusions or judgement with the benefit of hindsight, just my own observations on a region that few could fail to be touched by.

Lord and Lady Ludgershall would once again be our eminent and excellent guides and we pitched up in Calais a little before 9am. Provisions were purchased in Auchan before we made haste through the hops for Poperinge, the gateway to the Ypres salient and headquarters for much of the war machine operating on that part of the Western front.

It also served as a site for soldiers on a break from time in the front line or in reserve and it was to Talbot House that we headed first. Founded by the Reverend Tubby Taylor it served as an "Everyman's club" for soldiers of all rank in the British Army and provided a brief sanctuary from the madness that is the business of war.

It is remarkably well preserved and still provides accommodation. The Garden in particular must have provided particular solace from an environment reduced to deep mud by bad weather and intense artillery fire.

There was a rudimentary cinema on the first floor and in the roof a tiny chapel. He sounded like a thoroughly decent chap did Tubby Taylor and was obviously highly thought of, as were most of the chaplains who spent time in the front line.

Out of Talbot House and after making brief acquaintance with a statue of Elaine Cossey, known as Ginger to soldiers from all corners of the British Empire for her red hair and vivacity she embodied for many a reminder of human dignity and life that they carried into the hell of the trenches as a spark in their hearts.

The town hall next and the cells where soldiers were held for all manner of misdemeanours including desertion and cowardice, the penalty for these two, being tied to the post that stands in the courtyard and a bullet through the head at dawn. PTSD would be today's diagnosis for many who went this way, but at the time the army relied on Tommy Atkins having enough fire in his belly to climb out of his trench, brave the artillery, machine guns and gas and engage the enemy by whatever means possible, be it rifle, bayonet, club or spade,it was a brutal business maintained by, at times, brutal discipline in an age disparate from today.

Off to Ypres next, a city at the heart of the bulge in the Western Front known as the Ypres salient. It started the war as the third largest city in Flanders after Bruges and Ghent and was dominated by the 13th century Cloth hall and like so many cities in the region was protected by 17th century fortifications by the much vaunted Vauban.

Unfortunately his bulky buttresses and clever ravelins proved no match for several years of Teutonic artillery bombardment from behind the low ridges that surround the city and by 1918 the city was reduced to a pile of rubble.

A million or more Flemish acquired refugee status when the war arrived on their doorstep and were forced to cross international borders to escape the conflict.

Many went to Holland, some went to Britain, others went to more peaceful parts of France.

When the armistice was signed some stayed where they had ended up, but most returned to where they lived before war broke out.

The British called for Ypres not to be rebuilt and stand as a memorial of the many battles that had taken place there, but the Flemish had other ideas and rebuilt the city as it had stood before the bombs began to fall.

And well done the Flemish for that.

I'm not really religious, but there is merit in a resurrection and after the madness of war has receded more than a modicum of faith in humanity is restored when your everyday Joe and Josephine emerge from the wings to pick up the pieces,no matter how shattered the vase.

Welcome to Ypres

It's a city that strikes the right balance between reverence and the requirement to move forward.

It is all too easy to forget that within Pandora's box, hidden beneath all the bad stuff, lay hope.

The Menin Gate straddling the Menin road down which so many trudged never to return stands as a fitting monument to the missing,

although the Last Post in tourist time in high heat was a bit of a scrum as it is an understandable box to be ticked on any organised tour of the area.

It may be more evocative witnessing the event on a bleak day at the end of October in conditions more familiar to the sixty thousand names on the gate.

Kicking back in Ypres, because yes, it is not a maudlin place. We devoured a fine repast ( Flemish stew, Moules, Shrimp Croquettes, Steak and no little wine) in a popular restaurant in the square before heading home to bed.

After the conventional European breakfast we headed to the In Flanders Field Museum housed in the rebuilt Cloth market.

It's a very good museum.

We shared the place with people from many nations who fought on both sides of the war.

As well as the excellent and informative exhibits, it is worth paying the extra two euros to climb to the top of the clock tower which provides an excellent view of the city and the route out of town to the front line and the low ridges held by the Germans.
It takes two hours to do the museum and pick your time to climb the tower as during the rebuild they installed a clever carillian that strikes every fifteen minutes. It's an elaborate series of gongs to signal the passing of time and the stairs to the top pass within a few feet of the many bells, Lord Lugg timed his run wrong and had sparrows circling his crown (see The Beano) for quite a few minutes.

Heading out of town, it was off to Essex Farm and the advanced dressing station where the Canadian Medico John McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields" after witnessing his mate obliterated by a direct hit to the artillery battery to which he was assigned on the bank of the nearby canal.

We visited McCrae's grave on our trip down the coast to Etaples last year. Madam's school use the text each year when the curriculum requires them to make mention of the First World War. How McCrae came up with such easy prose in the most desperate of circumstances is beyond me, but then I refer you back to the top of this guff, it is impossible to comprehend what was possible in such circumstances with the benefit of hindsight.

Vancouver corner next and a stunning art deco memorial of a brooding soldier that marks the site where a Canadian division were subject to one of the first gas attacks during the second battle of Ypres
The designer of the memorial had finished second in a competition to the chap who came up with the Vimy Ridge memorial.

The Vancouver corner memorial may be substantially smaller than the winner of the competition, but the impact is the equal of Vimy Ridge.

And so to Tyne Cot, the largest CWGC in existence on top of the Passchendaele ridge looking back across all those Flanders Fields to Ypres.

In preparation for our visit I'd read "Passchendaele" by Nigel Steel and Peter Hart. It's a good book that relies heavily on anecdote from those who were there, the German take on matters is a little lacking , but it is evident that men (a lot of whom had already been through the misery of the Somme) were operating at mental and physical limits difficult to comprehend today. Dreadful Weather and intense artillery bombardment rendered the field of battle close to impassable. The Germans held the higher ground and constructed a series of pill boxes that covered each other if attacked. The Allies adopted new tactics of "Bite and hold" with the objective of a decisive breakthrough abandoned they sought smaller gains of a thousand yards or so that they would then endeavour to retain in the face of the inevitable German counter attack. This was then abandoned briefly with disastrous results before a return to a more prepared approach under the command of a Canadian which was also doomed to fail in impossible conditions as the fields of Flanders became the very embodiment of hell.

A few words from one who was there

The approach to the ridge was a desolate swamp, over which brooded an evil menacing atmosphere that seemed to defy encroachment. Far more treacherous than the visible surface defences with which we were familiar; deep devouring mud spread deadly traps in all directions. We splashed and slithered, and dragged our feet from the pull of an invisible enemy determined to suck us into its depths. Every few steps someone would slide and stumble and weighed down by rifle and equipment, rapidly sink into the squelching mess. Those nearest grabbed his arms, struggled against being themselves engulfed and, if humanly possible, dragged him out. When helpers floundered in as well and doubled the task, it became hopeless. All the straining efforts failed and the swamp swallowed its screaming victims, and we had to be ordered to plod on dejectedly and fight this relentless enemy as stubbornly as we did those we could see. It happened that one of those leading us was Lieutenant Chamberlain, and so distraught did he become at the spectacle of men drowning in mud, and the desperate efforts to rescue them that suddenly he began hysterically belabouring the shoulders of a sinking man with his swagger stick. We were horrified to see this most compassionate officer so unstrung as to resort to brutality, and our loud protests forced him to desist. The man was rescued, but some could not be and they sank shrieking with fear and agony. To be ordered to go ahead and leave a comrade to such a fate was the hardest experience one could be asked to endure, but the objective had to be reached, and we plunged on, bitter anger against the evil forces prevailing piled on to our exasperation. This was as near to Hell as I ever want to be.

Private Norman Cliff. 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards.

The hope that sprung from Pandora's box is evident in the rebuild of Ypres, the desolation of war is all to evident at Tyne Cot. It is an affecting place sited on the low ridge looking back at Ypres across the Flanders fields in which so many met a miserable end.

You enter the cemetery on a path with hidden speakers through which the voice of a young woman issues a roll call of the dead. Most were around the age of my own children, which raised the first lump in the throat. Enter the visitor centre and a minimalist display draws the eye,

as do some quotes on the wall

but driven by the background roll call

the eye is drawn to a screen on the end wall displaying the photo of each person announced,

and at this point I nearly went because after all the grave stones, crosses and memorials there were human beings with their own identity and story to tell behind each set of eyes.

Here's a quote from one who made it home

"The next night my pal came out with me. We heard one of their big ones coming over. Normally within reason, you could tell if it was going to land anywhere near or not. If it was, the normal procedure was to throw yourself down and avoid the shell fragments. This one we knew was going to drop near. My pal shouted and threw himself down. I was too damned tired even to fall down. I stood there. Next i had a terrific pain in the back and chest and I found myself face down in the mud. My pal came to me, he tried to lift me up. I said to him, "Don't touch me, leave me, I've had enough, just leave me" The next thing I found myself sinking in the mud. I don't hate it any more- it seemed like a protective blanket covering me. I thought "well this is death, it's not so bad" Then I foudn myself being bumped about and realised I was on a stretcher. I thought "poor devils these stretcher bearers - I wouldn't be a stretcher bearer for anything" I suddenly realised I wasn't dead and that if these wounds didn't prove fatal I should get back to my parents, to my sister, to my girl who I was going to marry. The girl that had sent me a letter every day from the beginning of the war. I thought "Thank God for that!" Then the dressing station, morphia and the sleep that is so badly needed. I didn't recollect any more till I found myself in a bed with white sheets and I heard the lovely wonderful voices of our nurses. Then I completely broke down."

Bombardier J.W Palmer, 26th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery laying communication lines who had survived three years in action.

It is difficult to portray the scale of Tyne Cot with a camera from the ground so here's one from the air.

Many of the graves and names on the wall are of soldiers who travelled a long way around the world (when transport was not so simple as today) to fight the hun. Rows and rows of Australians, Canadians, Africans, Indians and corners of Europe that I had previously thought unaffected by the war.

And then it was time to go home.

The final display in The Flanders Field museum states that this was the war to end all wars,

it wasn't, and there is a list of every war that has taken place since 1918 above the exit.

It is important that we continue to remember and also retain hope that a future generation will adopt an alternative means of settling national or religious differences than through armed conflict

"Well then you ask, why did men apparently unhesitatingly go forward in attack and capture strongpoints sometimes with reckless bravery? The answer is simple - I must repeat that there is no alternative to the firing squad but to go forward and you do your damnedest to kill the men who are trying to kill you. If you do not, you just die. In all this fighting when trenches and strongpoints are captured you are not a hero - you are obeying not man's instinct to kill, but man's instinct to live by killing the man who would kill you. Those that believe in the inevitability of war will always emphasise that man has an inherent killer instinct, that it is human nature and little can be done about it.
Another "Old Lie" a perfidious Old lie.
Man is not born a killer, it is the society in which he grows up which makes him one and that society must continually reiterate the lie to justify the act of killing in war.
I never wanted to kill anyone,
but I did...."

Private W.H.A Groom 1/5th Battalion London Regiment (Rifle Brigade)

Clicks Playlist of Joan Baez, Bill Withers and Country Joe and the Fish and sits back slightly dumbstruck, but grateful never to have experienced war at first hand.