IN THAT RICH EARTH

The new Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery. Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery includes 110 identified casualties and was the first new cemetery built by the Commission in 50 years.

A Richer Dust Concealed

The recent discovery of 21 German soldier’s bodies at Carspach on the south-eastern portion of the Western Front is truly remarkable. With their virtually intact and well preserved trench and underground shelter, this amazing site should be declared a world heritage site. After all it is wooden structures, such as these, that are usually lost forever to the wrath of time. The images of the site are amazing and those engaged on the site must feel extraordinary reverence for the men who walked its path and lived in the caverns below.

Stretching for 450 miles the Western Front’s line of conflict ran south from the dunes of the Belgian coast through Northern France.  Eventually it turns towards the east and heads towards the Swiss border passing through the French provinces of Lorraine and Alsace. It is not surprising, and considering the movement of armies, that when the machines of today rip through the countrysides of France and Belgium that encounters with the remains of the Great War are regularly discovered. Still each discovery is exceptional and the breadth of this “Pompeii of the Western Front” truly breathtaking in scope.

Many shards and fragments of war lie amongst these fields of valour and so too the bones of men, whose flesh has fallen away. Their discovery is intimate, and brings to those who find them profound memories that will live with them for a lifetime. Perhaps there is something personal found along side, or they remain in a tattered uniform, their rusted helmet next to them. Still there is the chance of a single piece of evidence that might identify them to bring identity to this soul perhaps killed outright or suffocated while buried alive.

It is near impossible to place an excavator’s shovel into the ground on the Western Front and not encounter the Great War. At times, with construction completed, roads give way to these tunnels and dugouts carved by the military’s engineers.  It happens everywhere, perhaps when a garden is dug at a person’s home, or when a sinkhole reveals an elaborate labyrinth of the Great War.

At the solemn and dignified Visitors’ Centre at Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial, Zonnebeke, Belgium, that includes German bunkers within its borders, the number of discovered artifacts through excavation for the foundation of its Visitors Centre was profound and provided instant and provocative material for the centre’s exhibits. Sitting upon the field of battle, and next to the gravesides of men from all nations the centre’s objects are the remains of the day that can be seen, unearthed from sacred ground.

The Western Front continual gives up its dead, reminding us once again of the fate of men caught in the gas clouds, explosions and rapid fire of the war. At the Boesinghe canal site 155 bodies have been given back to us and at Fromelles, the discovery, in 2009, of a mass burial returned 250 Australian and British soldiers to the surface. From the earth they have returned and to the earth they are reburied, but the memory of their sacrifice so many years ago is rekindled in the hearts of today’s generations.

When the excavators fall silent to the sounds of a new discovery, it further becomes our responsibility to take a moment of time to reflect and remember those who went before us. From atop the parapet and from below the surface, whether it is ninety-nine or one of the fallen, their loss and rediscovery, reminds us, in the words of Rupert Brooke,  “In that rich earth a richer dust concealed.”


About The Author

pferguson
Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.

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