So did I find what I came for? Has Walking to Armageddon, the first step of We are making a new world, been a success? Yes, I think it has. Short of spending several years living in the region, experience all seasons in multiple iterations, I don’t see how I could get a better sense of the environment soldiers experienced when out of the battle zone. Birdsong and soil composition, sunken lanes ad rolling ridges, the colours of crops and flowers, slugs and bunnies, the bruit of an afternoon storm and the quiet twinkle of stars through tree branches, have all left a clear impression. As for the battle zone itself, I did everything I could with the time allotted. But my journey toward understanding has some distance yet to run. It is hard, even when walking the ground of a well-preserved site like Vimy or Hill 60 to get back to that world. The period photographs and paintings (and artifacts) I saw in museums and sites along the way helped. So did continued reading of primary sources, but there were no Menin Gate at midnight or Ghosts of Vimy moments, nothing like Sassoon’s .
Along the pallid edge of the quiet sky
He watched a nosing lorry grinding on,
And straggling files of men; when these were gone
A double limber and six mules went by,
Hauling the rations up through ruts and mud
To trench-lines digged to hundred years ago.
Then darkness hid them with a rainy scud,
And soon he saw the village lights below.
But when he told his tale, an old man said
That he’d seen soldiers pass along that hill;
“Poor, silent things, they were the English dead,
Who came to France to fight and got their fill.”
The ghosts do not walk abroad. One must conjure them and the world they inhabited. I remain convinced that walking the ground is an essential step, but this type of historical necromancy requires material culture, poetry, letters and memoirs, photographs, paintings, and the all-important intangible – imagination.