I’m looking forward to being back in France and Belgium next week, for the first time in around 18 months! Although I’ll be working, I hope to find some time in the early morning and evenings to visit some sites and wander some paths that I’ve not seen in many months, to reconnect with the history of the war in that very personal way that one can only do when on the battlefields. Sometimes, the history world seems to lose its focus to me. On social media in particular, the driving force behind what we do as historians seems too often obscured in the minutiae and politics of it all. Like everything in life, it’s easy to get caught up and sweat the small stuff, arguing over trivial matters or worrying about follower counts, posting big threads to up profiles and that kind of thing. This has all been made worse, I think, by having lost that physical connection with the battlefields during the pandemic, which has made it harder to find what my old boss used to refer to as a ‘condor moment’ (yes he was a retired British Army officer!)
Certainly, I’ve been struggling to balance work loads lately and my productivity has been waning as a result, so I think the power of the Silent Cities is certainly needed to force me to step back and reflect, in that way that only the Old Front Line can do.
Searching through my emails I found this poem that my Dad wrote, which is apt:
Where am I, where I fell,
Struck by the anger of a German shell.
Mud, thick, so cold and wet,
Bleeds through my khaki battle set.
This bed of swamp, in a bedlam room,
My mind asleep, my soul asloom.
Deaf to all, strobes of light,
fill a sky of thick cordite.
Who am I? I’m Joey Law,
A married man of twenty four.
A brother, father and loving son,
A Tommy now with pack and gun.
But here a lay, dazed, bruised and still,
my only hope to wait until,
a comrade comes both brave and bold,
a denizen of this underworld.
To haul me back, through no-man’s land,
now full of men, but none that stand.A.L.B.