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Back into the fields of Flanders

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As today is the eleventh day of the eleventh month, here are two final quotes from the Great War memoir Bullets and Billets written by Bruce Bairnsfather. Two earlier posts are here and here.

 Firstly – the absurdly casual nature of death. 
Sniping was pretty severe that night, and, indeed, all the time we were in those Douve trenches. There was an almost perpetual succession of rifle shots, intermingled with the rapid crackling of machine-gun fire. However, you soon learned out there that you can just as easily “get one” on the calmest night by an accidental spent bullet as you can when a little hate is on, and bullets are coming thick and fast.

The first night we came to the Douve was a pretty calm one, comparatively speaking; yet one poor chap in the leading platoon, going through the farm courtyard I mentioned, got shot right through the forehead. No doubt whatever it was an accidental bullet, and not an aimed shot, as the Germans could not have possibly seen the farm owing to the darkness of the night.

Secondly – improvised graveyards Bairnsfather came across by a Flanders farm where he was billeted for a while.

The only difference about our farm was, we had a moat. Very superior to all the cluster in consequence. Sometime or other the moat must have been very effective; but when I was there, only about a quarter of it contained water. The other three-quarters was a sort of bog, or marsh, it surface broken up by and large shell holes.

On the driest part of this I discovered a row of graves, their rough crosses all battered and bent down. I just managed to discern the names inscribed; they were all French. Names of former heroes who had participated in some action or other months before.

Going out into the fields behind the farm, I found more French graves, enclosed in the rectangular graveyard that had been roughly made with barbed wire and posts, each grave surmounted with a dead soldier’s hat. Months of rough wintry weather had beaten down the faded cloth cap into the clay mound, and had started the obliteration of the lettering on the cross. A few more months; and cross, mound and hat will all have merged back into the fields of Flanders.


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