When One Battle Ends, Another Begins
I’m writing this after pulling my head out of writing for the day. Last Friday, I got back to the U.S. from a research trip to France. I wound up almost circumnavigating the country by the tail-end of it, though I did miss the border with Spain. In sum, it was 3,200 miles of driving, plus a train ride between Paris and Marseille and countless (okay, thanks to the iPhone, maybe not countless) footsteps in each of the towns.
I’m no expert on trips of these sorts. This last one was the first of its kind, and likely the last, until there’s a new (or rather, even newer) book in the works. It was an exhausting experience, even with the energy given off by traversing a country in the space of a month, visiting locations that aren’t entirely off the beaten path, but are at least not close to the top of most people’s wish lists. It was solitary and there were few days of rest, but experiencing the country like that will hopefully translate to the writing in the book, particularly the parts that have the riders following these lands which are incredible, but slightly outside the focus of most World War I, France, or history watchers (for example, the Vosges Front: more on that below).
Now the writing begins. Or continues. I’ll be sitting here at my desk from seven or eight in the morning until the afternoon, sometimes night, hopefully spitting out a thousands words a day. That’ll allow me to get a draft together by the end of summer. Then, I’ll revise it a handful of times before giving it to a few select readers. Back to revisions. Then, it’ll go to my editor (writing a book takes a lot of hands).
However, as promised, I did get to see some things that won’t make their way into the book. I thought, however, that you all might like to see some of them. The Canon AE-1 took a beating on this trip, so there were fewer clean shots than I would’ve liked, but a few still came out okay.
A “Bornes du Front” at Hartmannswillerkopf. A sculptor named Paul Moreau-Vauthier came up with the idea for these markers following WWI’s end in 1920. They would be placed at locations where the Allies launched their offensive against the Germans in 1918. 118 stones were placed from 1921 to 1927 along the front. This one was the final stone placed during Moreau-Vauthier’s initial effort. Unfortunately, a number of the stones were damaged in the WWII.
A dugout at Hartmannswillerkopf. The large battles along the Western Front between France, Belgium, and Germany to the north are the ones we talk about most in popular history. If you dig a little further, you can hear about the Eastern Front. The Vosges Front we miss out on. It’s the southern area of the Western Front, near the Alsace-Lorraine. There are some incredible sights here, both in terms of history and general scenery. Trenches at sixteen to twenty degrees of gradation, that encountered freezing winter temperatures, in close proximity to the enemy. I wound up walking all around this area and while some of the conditions in World War I are difficult to imagine, the difficulty of this terrain is next to impossible to consider.
The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme (Commonwealth Forces). Somehow, though there was plenty of rain on this trip, perfect clouds came out for each of the memorial visits. Thiepval itself is staggering in size and looks out over the flat land that was once the site of the Somme battlefield. Now, it’s mostly farmland. Unlike some other stretches of the Front, the war’s effect on the landscape is not immediately apparent. But in the occasional forest in the middle of a wheat field, you see the miniature berms and slopes of craters.
Okay, so technically the structure off to the left is from the wrong war, but I liked the grass, okay?
Until next time,