I usually conjure up a blog post title after I’ve written the actual post but today I can’t think of anything that would do my words justice, so I’m leaving it as is.
A few days ago I headed off with some friends on a motorbike trip to northern France and Belgium, of course sampling one or two beers along the way. It was my intention to pen a few notes about some of the better beers during the expedition but my thought process veered off towards something completely different.
Right now I’m riding along a French motorway heading back to the ferry at Cherbourg, ruminating inside my helmet and wondering if the words I’m thinking are the place for a beer blog. Then I think, “Stuff it, I don’t care if it is or isn’t. What I want to say needs to be said.” So here goes, it’ll not be long, bear with me.
This blog has always sought to be middle of the road when it comes to religion and politics. In fact I usually avoid religion like the plague and politics only appears when I’m having a go at politicians regarding local licensing laws.
So back to riding down those roads. Normandy and Somme in France and Ypres in Belgium were the areas being passed through and as you can imagine, WWI and WWII are widely remembered there. The sheer number of cemeteries and war memorials is vast and stopping at any one of those cemeteries takes your breath away.
It’s emotional. No word I know can express just how emotional you become when walking around the thousands of identical headstones in any one of the hundreds of countryside graveyards, small or large. Even more so when you see many headstones lined side by side inscribed with the same date, the date when that man died.
Burial places of Irish, British, South African, Canadian, American and many, many more countries dot the landscape every few miles. One very rural area we stopped at in France had Irish flags commemorating the soldiers who perished while attempting to liberate the local village. The village’s sole church had plaques honouring fallen soldiers from Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
The town of Messines in Belgium has an Irish Peace Park commemorating the 60,000 injured and dead soldiers from the 10th and 16th Irish Divisions and 36th Ulster Division. It’s overwhelming just sitting down on the grass, looking up to the blue sky, hearing the birds sing and being bloody thankful that men gave their today for my tomorrow. I cried.
Politics and religion weren’t a factor in my visit and I hope you don’t see it in these words. Regardless of your views on the rights or wrongs of conflict, there’s always a human cost. I’m just trying here to portray the size of that cost during two World Wars. It’s unfathomable. It’s – inexplicable.
This post started out as a thought about reviewing some local beers but was quickly overtaken by the emotional juggernaut that hit me while out there. Plans of beer reviews were discarded and I’m not sorry about that. Not one jot. Just grateful to those who went before.
Are you still reading? Thanks, if you are. Normal life continues.