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WW1 Photos Centenary Website: 2014-2018 By Paul Reed

Remembrance: A Woman Among The Sea of Wooden Crosses

It is often forgotten how many families went to France and Flanders during the inter-war period; by the 1930s Ypres alone was receiving more than a quarter of a million visitors from Britain and the Empire. Most such pilgrimages were subsidised in some way as the cost for the average family was prohibitive, but the desire to make that journey was a strong one.

This image is from a small collection taken during one such pilgrimage in the 1920s. There are no captions on any of the pictures but evidence seems to suggest this is Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, near Poperinghe; at that time it was the largest British cemetery on the Western Front with nearly 10,000 graves; Tyne Cot, today the largest, had as yet not been finished.

And when you focus in on this image, among the sea of wooden crosses, there she is – a women looking back at the photographer. Was she a mother, a sister, a wife, a lover, a friend? The half-seen face with the smart dress, arms at her side almost as if at attention by the grave – what must have crossed her mind, and the thousands and thousands of other women like her who visited the Old Front Line to make some sense of loss, some sense of the cost of that war? Looking at the name on the cross would she have echoed the words of Vera Brittain, following her own visit to her brother’s grave?

“At every turn of every future road I shall want to ask him questions, to recall to him memories, and he will not be there… How trivial my life has been since the War ! I thought, as I smoothed the earth over the fern. ‘How mean they are, these little strivings, these petty ambitions of us who are left, now that all of you are gone! How can the future achieve, through us, the somber majesty of the past?’ ” (Testament Of Youth)

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4 responses

  1. Genevra Charsley

    I hope everyone who looks at this image today pauses to reflect, just as I have done. We remember those who were left to just pick up the pieces and we remember those that have and will continue to go before us…Lest we forget.

    06/11/2012 at 07:57

  2. alain

    I think above all that, in our desire to honour the dead, we forget too those who knew them and loved them, and are remained clueless at the end of the war. The silhouette of this women is a call to remember.

    06/11/2012 at 10:12

  3. Jo Laughton

    It made tears come to my eyes. My mother lost her 19 year old brother in just about the same place in the next war. Does it ever end?

    06/11/2012 at 11:43

  4. Tondaleo

    Does it ever end? No.

    06/11/2012 at 21:44

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