I’ve just come back from a trip to Belgium, honouring the family dead of the First World War. It’s now one hundred years since the Second Battle of Ypres, where gas was used for the first time, and it was both sobering and enlightening to be there for that memorial.
The Military Graves
They make you think, these graves. Sometimes there are thousands of them together, and sometimes there are just a dozen or so, in a little area that was once farmland.
Some of the gravestones really tell you what it was like, what horrors those soldiers faced: look at the two photos immediately below, for instance. There are three graves in a row of soldiers “believed to be buried in this cemetery”. And two soldiers in one grave (there were many such graves); we thought these were soldiers whose bodies could not be disentangled enough to be sure.
Please click on the pictures to read the inscriptions.
Sometimes there’s a solitary grave within a small cemetery: a single Chinese labourer is here, for instance. Others must have died too, but he alone is buried in this particular little military cemetery. Was it the Spanish flu, since he died in 1919? It doesn’t say, but somebody had taken the trouble to find an appropriate Chinese saying and hopefully inscribe his name in Chinese script, inscribe it and translate it. And he’s looked after still: there are fresh poppies on that grave.
Calamity had come upon all these people, fresh-faced 16 year olds, and older men in their forties alike. For me, as a prepper of a few years’ standing, how does that connect to prepping? Does it connect at all?
I think it does. There are plenty of things to prepare against: unemployment, a death in the family, an illness, floods, pandemic, many things. But some things, you have no protection against: if your country is invaded, whatever happens, life is changed forever: you enlist, you’re called up, you’re a refugee, your home is destroyed, your livelihood gone, family members killed, your community dispersed, maybe your currency collapses. And sadly, in much of Africa and Asia, these things are present day realities, but one hundred years ago, seventy years ago and indeed twenty five years ago, these things were happenings in Europe, right on our doorstep.
Some things can’t be prepared for, or at least, can’t be prepared for enough so that they don’t affect us: today, we’d add economic collapse, large terrorist incidents, space weather, or climate change. There’s only so much we can do, and that makes it doubly important to make sure that, just like everyone else, we live our lives to the full for the time we have on this earth. We take care of the planet and its people, especially as it’s still the only home we have, and we pass it on to those who follow, in the best shape we can.
So, completely ignoring the politics and complex reasons behind the First World War, and thinking solely of what the individual men experienced, here’s another photo to finish on. This is the sculpture and the inscription at the apex of the Menin Gate.