My Father’s War

Gillian Darley

Earlier this year I went to Picardy, heading for a tiny, skewed, rectangle I’d drawn on a map of northern France. Here, north of Bray-sur-Somme, south of Albert, in the countryside around Méaulte, Suzanne, Carnoy, Fricourt and Mametz, was where my father lived from August 1915 to March 1917. It isn’t on the Poppy Trail or the official Circuit of Remembrance. I wanted to scan horizons, plot distances, think back. Each nondescript name denotes a place destroyed, now a blank canvas of gigantic undifferentiated fields, with a slight queasy swell, and occasional woods, like ink splats on blotting paper. On that dank April morning there were only two distant figures in the entire landscape, masked by mist, and carrying shotguns.

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