Month: July 2015

Vanishing Point: Devil’s Wood

Oak is a feature of the English psyche, a fabled national wood if there is such a thing. It proliferates throughout our history from warships and traders building an Empire to the familiar furniture and ancient twisting house frames. The royal Oak subverted to shelter Kett, Litster and Hood. The familiarity of the grain pattern smoothed and oiled on chair arms and banisters, the hardness, strength and flexibility are somehow synonymous in our hive mind with Englishness. We are not alone with Oak, because it simply isn’t just our wood. In the cemeteries of the front you won’t find...

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Vanishing Point: High Wood

The way to start these things is difficult sometimes so here is a Piece of Mackintosh, not perhaps his best poem, but he can sum up the general situation in the area of High Wood better than I can. He knows what it was like because he was there in 1915 and wounded badly enough to get a Blighty that saw him home for some time, at least long enough to write some things down before he went back out and was killed at Cambrai in 1917. Here are just some of his bones laid out. ‘There is a...

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Vanishing Point: Fricourt New

The best and the worst of it all are hidden over a brow. You won’t find the chattering crowds of the nexus points where death draws itself to a peak, this is not Thiepval or the Menin Gate. Nobody talks, no one sniggers, there is no rustle of frite wrapper when a hush is drawn. No dignitaries nor men in tidy suits with their furtive mobile phone glances or the stutter of shutters in a forest and waved tablet and phone cameras. This is the mud of winter that sticks to the boots, the dust of summer that sticks...

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Vanishing Point: Mash Valley and Ovillers

The Somme is exceptionally beautiful. For me a landscape that feels like home. It is chalk downland, when you get up onto the solitary heights of the Redan Ridge or the plateau where Thiepval sits is feels so similar to parts to the South Downs. Below lie the flatland between Albert to Bapaume, itself another plateau, the soils are maybe a touch redder than in the heights, the whole layer set over chalk, a geological base that is broadly the same as the East and South East of England. The fecund curved surfaces makes it seem instantly familiar, gentle...

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