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

Monday, October 31, 2022

Why Was the Passchendaele Battlefield Such a Nightmare ?— A Roads Classic

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Storm Clouds Gather Over Flanders

How the Participants Described Passchendaele

Had I a descriptive pen I could picture to you the squalor and wretchedness of it all and through it the wonder of the men who carry on. . .A desolate wilderness of water filled with shell craters, and crater after crater whose lips form narrow peninsulas along which one can at best pick a slow and precarious way. Here a shattered tree trunk, there a wrecked 'pill-box', sole remaining evidence that this was once a human and inhabited land. 
Maj. C.E.L. Lyne, Royal Field Artillery

The vast field of shell-holes had been turned into a sea of mud by the heavy rain…Its depths were particularly dangerous in the low-lying ground of the Paddebeek. On my zigzag course I passed many a lonely and forgotten corpse. Often only a head or a hand projected from the shell-hole whose circle of dirty water reflected them. Thousands sleep like that, without one token of love to mark the unknown grave.
Lt. Ernst Jünger, 73th Hanoverian Füsiliers

The shapeless Ridge had lost every tree; . . .flayed and clawed up, (it) was traversed by no (known) likeness. . . Waiting there in the gashed hillside we looked over the befouled fragments of Ypres, the solitary sheet of water, Zillebeke Lake, the completed hopelessness.

Lt. Edmund Blunden, 11th R. Sussex Regiment

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The Source of the Nightmare

The most important factor in turning the campaign into a paradigm of the horrors of war was the unusual weather. That 1917 was unusual is beyond doubt, but it was not so outlandishly strange as to be impossible to contemplate in advance. It was coupled with the particular geology of the region, which was certainly known long before the war, but that again had to be coupled with the new brutality of the artillery barrage. Both in terms of quality and quantity, artillery had been revolutionized since the outbreak of the war, and the combination of these factors produced the fearful conditions on the ground that caused so much hardship and loss.
Martin Marix Evans, Passchendaele: The Hollow Victory

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