On being a battlefield tourist

Supplement 2) On being a battlefield tourist. Okay, I’m here walking the battlefields in a professional capacity, but I’m still a tourist. And to be honest, the idea makes me a little uncomfortable. Not that there’s anything wrong with touring the battlefields with the right spirit. But sometimes it feels a little bit voyeuristic and even a bit futile and foolish.
Makes me think of Lt. J.S. Purvis’ poem High Wood.

Ladies and Gentleman this is High Wood
Called by the French, Bois de Fourneaux,
The famous spot which in Nineteen-Sixteen,
July August and September was the scene,
Of long and bitterly contested strife.
By reason of its High commanding site.
Observe the effect of shell-fire in the trees.
Standing and fallen; this is wire; this trench
For months inhabited; twelve times changed hands;
(They soon fall in); used later as a grave.
It has been said on good authority
That in the fighting for this patch of wood
Were killed somewhere above eight thousand men,
Of whom the greater part were buried here,
This mound on which you stand being…
Madame, please,

You are requested kindly not to touch
Or take away the Company’s property
As souvenirs; you’ll find we have on sale
A large variety, all guaranteed.
As I was saying, all is as it was,
This is an unknown British Officer,
The tunic having lately rotten off.
Please follow me – this way…
The path, sir, please.

The ground which was secured at great expense,
The Company keeps absolutely untouched,
And in the dugout (genuine) we provide,
Refreshments at a reasonable rate.
You are requested not to leave about
Paper, or ginger-beer bottles, or orange peel,
There are waste-paper baskets at the gate.

Or perhaps it’s just that the right spirit, of trying to understand what happened in these places and how it shaped our world, is in such contrast with the very contemporary, forward-looking life of the region today.

About cahagerman

Dad, husband, writer, historian, recovering academic, and the Consulting Professor.
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