This talk by Prof Mark Connelly was delivered ‘live’ to an online audience.
For the many thousands of British people who crossed the channel to see the battlefields in the 1920s and 1930s, the experience was very much shaped by the specific section of the front they visited. Ypres was by far the easiest place to site to visit: close to the channel ports, quickly re-connected to road and rail communications, it presented no great logistical problem.
Things were very different on the Somme front. The battlefield was huge in terms of width and length, which at certain points meant a vast wasteland almost impossible to traverse. Those attempting to visit it had to be ready to face difficulties and challenges from first to last lest they find themselves seemingly marooned in this sea of devastation. As the years passed and reconstruction commenced, many places on the Somme appeared to be ghostly remnants of the past incapable of full rehabilitation.
Even though its fields returned to cultivation, the Somme remained a place of melancholy and loneliness, which few visitors failed to sense as they wandered its sunken lanes and scattered villages.
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