|Dan Dubowitz @ LensCulture/|
Adam Hochschild on the British men who refused the draft in World War I @ The American Scholar.
In early autumn bite is in the air as a late, gold-tinged afternoon falls over the rolling countryside of northern France. Where the land dips between gentle rises, it is already in shadow. Dotting the fields are machine-packed rolls of the year’s final hay crop. Up a low hill, a grove of trees screens the evidence of another kind of harvest reaped on this spot nearly a century ago. Each gravestone in the small cemetery has a name, rank, and serial number; 162 have crosses and one has a Star of David. When known, a man’s age is engraved on the stone as well: 19, 22, 23, 26, 34, 21, 20. Ten of the graves simply say, “A Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.” Almost all the dead are from Britain’s Devonshire Regiment, the date on their gravestones July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Most were casualties of a single German machine gun several hundred yards from this spot, and were buried here in a section of the frontline trench they had climbed out of that morning. Some 21,000 British soldiers were killed or fatally wounded that summer day, the day of greatest bloodshed in the history of their country, before or since.From a nearby hilltop, you can see a half dozen of the 400 cemeteries where British soldiers are buried in the Somme battlefield region, a rough crescent of territory less than 20 miles long, but graves are not the only mark the war has made on the land. More than 700 million artillery and mortar rounds were fired on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918, and many failed to explode. Every year these leftover shells kill people. Dotted through the region are patches of uncleared forest or scrub surrounded by yellow danger signs in French and English warning visitors away. More than 630 bomb-disposal specialists have been killed in France since 1946. Like those shells, the First World War itself has remained in our lives, below the surface, because we live in a world so much formed by it.read more