Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Tourch of Neuville-Saint-Vaast

You, the living who pass by this torch,
raised above the bloody battlefield,
survey this ground replete with graves
and think of our dead whose hearts were good.

The huge Torch of Peace rising out of the ground west of Neuville-Saint-Vaast in the Artois of France was designed to symbolize a fresh start for the 1,500 villagers who returned to live there  after the turmoil of war. Not one building was left standing in the village by the end of the Great War.

Seized by the Germans in October 1914, this heavily fortified position was retaken in 1915 by the French after two weeks of incessant fighting that cost the lives of more than 5,000 men and left the village in ruins. That day of liberation, 9 May, is forever inscribed on a plaque which girdles the famous torch-holding hand. In 1932, on the day of the memorial's inauguration in the grounds of the Neuville Home for Disabled Veterans, white stone from the rubble of the flattened village was placed around its base as a symbol of the destruction.

Roadside View of the Torch

In addition to the torch, the entrance to the Home was once marked by a monumental concrete arch, but this is now gone. The Home came into being when the various belligerents of the Great War set up national cemeteries in the area. They employed disabled war veterans to maintain and guard the cemeteries. However, at that time the region of Artois had no suitable accommodation for the veterans, some of whom were severely handicapped. Just like the phoenix on its coat of arms, Neuville-Saint-Vaast rose from the ashes of the Great War.

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