A very harsh thing to say

‘What if someone buried my son?’ Anguish of search for Armenia’s war dead

Well, yes Madam. But would you prefer it if no one had buried your dead son?

16 thoughts on “A very harsh thing to say”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    That’s why we have a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Sometimes you don’t even get dog tags.

  2. ‘Human rights defenders have appealed to the European court of human rights about the fate of more than 200 PoWs.’

    You’ll note the extraordinary assumption in the Guardian that the European court of human rights has some sort of authority over Azerbaijan. And they accuse others of being imperialists!!

  3. So it’s one of those non-geographic things that anybody can join, like Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Alliance, and Australia joining Eurovision.

  4. Go to Tyne Cot near Ypres, and you’ll see – among the many, many graves – some little anomalies in the rows of immaculately-tended headstones. Some of them seem to be misaligned, in apparent sloppiness by the War Graves Commission.

    Look more closely, and you’ll see those are where two, three, even five markers guard a single grave: some or all of which may be identified only by unit or rank, or the even more anonymous “A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR, KNOWN UNTO GOD” (penned by Kipling, whose son was missing presumed killed at Loos in 1915 after Kipling pulled strings to get Jack a commission after his poor eyesight meant multiple rejections)

    Industrial warfare is destructive enough that sometimes, all you can do is count body parts and estimate how many men were in that fighting trench when the shell obliterated it, and guess from a set of collar dogs and a button or belt-buckle which regiment (or even nationality) they might have been from; then bury what scraps and fragments the high explosive and fragmentation left behind.

    Some of those graves, will map to names on the Menin Gate (which lists those with no known resting place – and there are a lot of them).

    We’ve avoided that sort of “warfare at scale” for some time, which is overall not a bad thing, but it leaves people unaware of just how devastating it can be.

  5. Bloke in North Dorset

    “ Some of those graves, will map to names on the Menin Gate (which lists those with no known resting place – and there are a lot of them).”

    I thought I knew what to expect when we visited, but I was taken aback when we visited. When you see pictures of the gates they do do justice to the size and there are names over the whole thing.

  6. “Sometimes you don’t even get dog tags”

    There’s a long history behind such things. The earliest mention of an identification tag for soldiers comes in Polyaenus (2nd century AD) who wrote of Spartan soldiers who wrote their names on sticks tied to their left wrists.

  7. Used to walk through the Menin gate regularly when I visited Ieper. It’s quite good for sheltering from the rain, too. It is very large & there are a great many names. Fortunately my grandfather isn’t one of them.

  8. @BiS

    I also had a grandfather who fought in WWI – at Gallipoli. Odd to think that something seemingly so long ago is in reality only a couple of generations back. He once showed me a tin with medals and other bits of memorabilia. I thought he talked of going ashore at “Silver Bay” but he must have said Suvla.

  9. We went to Ieper/Ypres six years ago, with a good friend who wanted to visit his grandfather’s grave in the Ramparts Cemetery on the 100th anniversary of his death, back in March 1915 (we found it easily enough – Ramparts isn’t a large cemetery). We also went to the In Flanders Field Museum, where they project onto the walls and ceilings the names of those who died on that specific date during WWI – and we managed to see the name come up, which was good.

    Of course, we visited the Menin Gate, which as others have mentioned above is quite special: so many names. We weren’t able to stay for the Last Post, as we had to get back to Brussels; but on my only other visit to Ieper, back in the early 1990s, we’d stayed for a couple of nights, so we were able to hear it then: genuinely moving.

  10. @Andrew C
    My grandfather was also at Gallipoli. Came to europe with the ANZACS. Never got round to going home.
    I lived near Bailleul for a while. Host to two major battles, it was pretty well the front line from 14 to 18. Even managed a bit part in ’40. The family’s been digging holes in Flanders for a century. Most of us use shovels but an uncle preferred bombs.

  11. As a change from the usual routes I crossed the Swiss border at a little used crossing somewhere N. of Geneva and took the back roads NW to Calais. It wasn’t long before I passed a CWG cemetery beside the road, I stopped, a few miles more there was another, and another. I stopped so often the journey took an extra day; I was following, more or less, the front line all the way. Reached the Menin Gate in time for the last post and then caught the late ferry. Ever since, I’ve made a point of stopping whenever I’ve seen a sign: a lane in the middle of nowhere, a few graves in vast landscape.

  12. The village cemetery at Merris contains a dozen graves from ’40. A mixed bag of regiments etc. I tried unsuccessfully to find out how they got there. No one seems to know. Field hospital? It’s not a piece of country you’d want to be conducting a fighting retreat over. Flat as a pancake. Nothing to hide behind. Nothing much in the way of geographical features to provide a defensible line, once you’re past the Lys & the Canal du Nord, before you get to Dunkerque. And there’s not much there, either. The WW1 war memorial at Merville seems to have provided someone with some cover. The northern side’s fairly pristine. The southern face is like Swiss cheese.

  13. @BIS

    50 klicks from Dunkirk, most of the blokes described as dying during the period of the evacuation, one or two at indeterminate dates inc long after the evac.

    Less of a mixed bag than you remember though. Most from 2 Buffs, one from West Kents, one from Bucks Yeomanry. All were part of 44th Home Counties Infantry Div and were evacuated after taking heavy casualties.

    I would hazard that as you say it was a field hospital site, and that the krauts (or locals) found a few more bodies here and there later in the year and buried them with their brothers.

    War is hell.


  14. ” the krauts (or locals) found a few more bodies here and there later in the year and buried them with their brothers.”
    The locals are still finding bits of bodies from the first one. We dug up some bones in the garden. I have photos taken in the period. Merris was basically rubble & craters. Outtersteene, a klik down the road, had virtually ceased to exist. The memorial to the French dead is a very long read. 47 names if I remember rightly. Current population’s only a thousand. But a lot of that’s accounted for by the village being a dormitory for people working in the surrounding towns & Lille. It was around 200 in ’14 & the true Merrisains now are undoubtedly fewer.

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