We spent the day yesterday seeing military cemeteries. The area we are in right now is the valley of the Somme River and the site of one of the major battles of the Great War of 1914-1918. The Battle of the Somme took place in the summer of 1916, and it was mainly a British-German clash.
Yesterday we saw British, German, and French cemeteries. There are over 400 British military graveyards in the region, because the British decided to bury their dead where they were killed rather that repatriate the bodies. Some of the British cemeteries are big, and many are small. About 400,000 British soldiers died in the Battle of the Somme. Many of the bodies were never identified, and many have never even been found.
The British cemetery we went to see, Delville Wood, contains about 5,500 graves. Two-thirds of those are the graves of unidentified soldiers.
We also went to look at a German cemetery. From the pictures in this post, you can see how different it is. It's dark and austere, where the British cemetery is bright and full of flowers.
We also saw the French military cemetery at Rancourt, the village where our hotel is located. It contains many thousands of graves, too, and is again a completely different style.
When this trip was planned, I thought the experience of visiting all these graves and cemeteries and war memorials might feel morbid. In fact, it didn't feel that way at all, even though the day was gloomy and gray, with a couple of hours of much-needed rain. The intensity of my own emotional reaction as I stood and surveyed the site of so much senseless violence and so many horrible deaths, on such a gigantic scale, took me by surprise.