We stayed in Arras for two nights, visiting cemeteries and countryside around the city. The aim was not to follow the historical path of the war, or specific battles, but to photograph for an illustrated talk and to ‘react’ to the area and the sights, to try and find understandings based on the lie of the land, and how the various nations regarded their fighting forces. And of course to reflect on the significance of those four years for today.
South of Arras is where the Battle of the Somme took place during 1916, the one in which more people were killed than at any other time during WWI, and the name which is perhaps most associated with the war.
Hannescamps New Military Cemetery is at the side of a small village in rolling agricultural countryside, and was at the edge of the front line in 1916, and again in 1918. The cemetery at Gommecourt Wood is a collection of burials from various smaller graveyards, and today lies peacefully in farming country, with the wood still at its side. The hills around the villages of Serre, Hébuterne, and Puisieux witnessed fierce fighting in 1916, 1917 and 1918, as the many cemeteries here attest.
And then, somehow, during all these years of fighting and destruction, the Mediaeval façade of the Church of St Peter at Mailly-Maillet survived. Can you imagine losing this?
The Church of St Pierre, Mailly-Maillet