72,191 names. Rising up as it does above the trees on the Thiepval ridge on the Somme, it is by turns a beautiful, vast and horrifying edifice of brick and stone, coloured like blood and bone. A list, a huge frightening and sobering list. The number of names, the people, make it almost impossible to take in, spiralling off tortuously above you to laurelled portholes listing the physical prizes of the front. If you want an advert for not having wars, this is probably the closest you’ll find in France, sobering doesn’t adequately describe it. If you’re British (or South African) and you visit it you will find a relative of some kind scored on here in a serif type designed by Max Gill for the purpose of listing the dead while his brother’s typeface drives us from station to station on the underground back home and declaims how we should keep calm in other wars, on tea towels, mugs and trite sales pitches. You will find Great-grandfathers who never really knew their families rubbing shoulders with Great-Uncles who never had the chance to have one, youngsters fresh-faced from the mines and offices jostle with old hands scarred by the pen and the pick. If yours are not here they’ll be on the Menin Gate or one of the other memorials or cemeteries along the front, walls of futility, fragility and lost humanity, our lost family past set in stone.
Really there are too many names and not enough words.