Requiem for the Unknown

As you stand in the Tower of the Australian National War Memorial at Villers–Bretonneux in Northern France, and gaze out over the wide rolling green and yellow fields of the Somme, it is difficult to picture in your mind how this landscape appeared to the soldiers who fought here in 1918. Only fading black and white images offer some indication of the mud, blood and carnage that was the battlefield.

As you walk these sacred hills … and as the lush grass brushes past your legs, you remember, with reverence, that here in the silence beneath the rich soil of the Western Front, lie the unknown graves of 11,000 Australian lives. Forever young, and forever at peace.

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.
There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.

Rupert Brooke – War Sonnet IV. The Dead

  Anzac_5 Anzac_4 somme_9 Somme_2A

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7 thoughts on “Requiem for the Unknown

  1. This reminds me of our trip to Gallipoli last year. Having no relatives in that battle, I did not expect to be so emotionally moved, but there is a hallowed quality to these grounds where so many lost their lives. It is sad beyond words. Thank you for the images and poem, and their thoughtful context.


    1. Thanks Ardysez … I had a Great Uncle who was a stretcher bearer at both Gallipoli and the Western Front here at Villers Bretonneux, so having stood on the same ground the connection is very real. There is an earlier post where I’ve quoted sections of his War Diary (Remembrance Day). It’s a very beautiful but sad place. Wes

      Liked by 1 person

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