Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Watercolour by Tony Taylor http://www.paintingbreaksguernsey.com

Sunday, 16 November 2014

MARKETING WAR

I was in London on Remembrance Sunday to view the magnificent display of poppies at the Tower of London. 
Later that day I read that archaeologists have been granted the opportunity to excavate an area in Flanders where trench warfare took place during The Great War. 
This permission was granted because in 2015 work is scheduled to start on a pipeline, which will facilitate the movement of gas between France and Germany, and once this work begins all future archaeological exploration in the area will be impossible.
Ironically, gas was one of the deadliest of the many perils faced by the men who inhabited the trenches during 'the war to end all wars'.
Conditions endured by soldiers in the trenches were appalling and men survived from day to day, exhausted, their bodies plagued by lice and trench-foot, sharing filthy mud-holes with marauding rats: a far cry from the Hollywood-style portrayal in the current Sainsbury’s television ad, which depicts a friendly Christmas encounter between British and German troops, with combatants, on both sides, clean, bright-eyed, handsome and healthy.
I’m sure the Sainsbury’s commercial is well-enough intentioned but it seems somehow distasteful to use the sacrifice of gallant men to sell groceries and score points in the ‘great supermarket war’.
This poem is as much about those men as about the archaeologists who dig in the trenches today. 



THE ARCHAEOLOGISTS

Digging again in Flanders Fields,
long trenches deep in red, rich earth,
that march in rows from east to west.

It rains, but now there are no shells:
instead, with slow forensic skill,
they harvest artifacts from mud.

A pipeline has been promised: gas
to flow from here to Germany
but first, in one last push, they dig,

these archaeologists, who duck
beneath the trench's lip with spades
as once their forefathers, with guns,

crouched, cursed or wept, as shrapnel flew.
These modern men find badges, boots,
cups, broken rifles, helmets, more.

They work relentlessly in rain
to harvest relics from the soil
that runs like blood beneath their boots

while deeper yet, cold corpses lie:
bones, clothed in ragged uniforms,
reach from the weeping earth in vain.

2 comments:

  1. I like the sentiments you express here. Where you say 'there are no shells'; I know you mean that they are not falling, but the sad truth is that the land is littered with shells and other explosives, and to this day the farmers in the area, like so many farmers around the world, have to run the risk of farming amidst shells, mines and more recently cluster bombs of past conflicts.

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  2. That's a valid and valuable point you make, John. I was aware that unexploded shells have been an ongoing problem in the area so perhaps, in the interests of clarity, I need to rethink that line. Thanks for your comment.

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