Belgium 2014: Thoughts on cycling the Belgian battlefields - Kathryn's history blog

Monday, 24 November 2014

Belgium 2014: Thoughts on cycling the Belgian battlefields

When I set up this blog at the beginning of the year I did so with the thought that I would blog about my summer trip to the Belgian battlefields either while I was there or shortly after. Obviously, this never happened.

It has taken me quite a while to figure out what I wanted to say about my expedition of cycling in Flanders and how to convey exactly what it felt like. I think that before I went I expected all of the emotion to be very obvious, to feel sad at all of the lasting imprints of loss and devastation that I was witnessing but to cope with it and be able to express that. When I’d been on school battlefields visits previously (aged 13 and 16) this was how it had felt. However, it wasn’t at all what I experienced this time around, 19, and visiting the region alone.

Maybe it was the result of being older, or of greater knowledge and understanding, but I think a large part of the difference of this trip was the fact that I was immersed, by myself, in the whole experience of the war (albeit a sanitised version). I spent my days visiting memorials and museums and my nights at Talbot House; my time interspersed by reading experiences, histories and poems from the period. While I think this was a great and very valuable experience, it did make it a very overwhelming visit which has taken me a long time to view as an overall picture.

I still don’t wholly know what to think and I that is one of the things that intrigues me so much about studying the First World War. So much happened in such a small period of time, and in the Ypres Salient such a small amount of space, that it is hard to comprehend it in its entirety. It is without doubt a devastating and deeply saddening place but it is also one which holds great fascination for me and one which has inspired great acts of humanity and kindness.


While it felt weird to be ‘enjoying’ such sites of destruction, one of the main things I have taken away from staying at Talbot House is that the positive experiences of war are also very important to be remembered. The community and generosity of the soldiers which is still such an important part of Talbot House’s existence were just as striking as the destruction and all the more difficult to articulate.

I'm glad that I was finally able to make a start writing about my visit to the battlefields and I hope that I will write more in the future.

Kathryn

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