Time, there’s a thing. I have a theory about time and it’s this, it’s that time flows differently in different places. OK; sounds a bit mad doesn’t it? Let me explain further. Take somewhere like France. Dotted about France are innumerable war grave cemeteries. The conflicts of the first and second world wars left their mark on the landscape in various ways and even today farmers in the Somme and other places continue to dig up artillery shells and other reminders of the past.
On many occasions when trundling through rural France I’ve come across many bunkers, fortresses and other sites. In northern France Liz and I stopped at a war grave cemetery that was picture perfect in its own way. The lawns were incredibly neat, and the hedgerows immaculately trimmed. Sadness pervaded the site like a scent coming over from the adjacent fields. Throughout there is a feeling of peace, of slowness and a feeling that time has stopped here or perhaps just slowed. That’s not strange when you think that time must have speeded up during the action of the first and second world wars, so it seems only fair that nature must compensate, that time must slow later to make up for the fast and frantic earlier time.
You can imagine the pace of things even a hundred years ago: The early morning bombardment, the whistles blowing as officers called their troops to go over the top. The advance parties who made ahead to cut the barbed wire, the troops walking apprehensively forward until they walked into the deadly machine gun fire that cut most of them down. Many found their final resting places in these cemeteries, places that are now quiet and peaceful with a silent beauty, timeless and moving with the beat of nature as a backdrop, the humming of the insects, distant cows mooing, and the birds flying past.
Many soldiers’ bodies slipped deeper into the mud of places like the Somme and remain there still. Others have no resting places, their bodies blown to pieces by artillery shells, their names marked on marble walls forever missing in action.
At one place, travelling from St Quentin to Soissons we stopped by the road to find a huge sword standing in the rock. Like a giant Excalibur, it stood there waiting to be pulled by some giant hand, bearing silent witness to a long ago battle from the Second World War.
We once visited Compiegne, the place where the armistice was signed at the end of the First World War. The famous railway coach there is not the authentic one. No, that one was where Hitler forced the French to surrender in the early days of World War 2. The coach was then taken away to Berlin where the Nazis destroyed it in the closing stages of the war to stop its return to France. The coach that stands here now in Compiegne is a similar one and it’s easy to imagine the scenes all those years ago, the French accepting the German surrender in 1918, then years later Hitler and his gang pressing their terms on the French.
I’ve never been to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland but whenever I look at one of those TV documentary programmes where TV cameras return to the site, it doesn’t look like a place of mass destruction. It looks calm, serene and another silent witness to the death and destruction of the past. Time ran faster here when the Nazi death machine was in full swing. Now time flows peacefully past over those who come to learn about what has gone on before. This must indeed be a sombre place to visit but Auschwitz is not only a memorial to those who had their lives snuffed out in such a terrible fashion but a reminder to all of the dangers of prejudice and hatred. Time hangs heavy over this place but the evil that built and maintained this death camp has long gone.
All the places mentioned here have had their moments in the spotlight of world history. They all lived through times of accelerated pace when time flowed swiftly. Perhaps it’s their time now for a quieter pace while time flows slowly . .
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