Saturday, August 26, 2006

Yypres - colouring in the landscape

My curious run of research for my Haldane biography ended its current run in the landscape around Ypres, by the memorial to the Canadian forces who fell in the 2nd battle of Ypres in April 1915 - when poison gas was used for the first time. Haldane raced to the trenches then embarked on a scientific campaign to discover the nature of the gas and what gas mask might prtoect the soldiers, gassing himself and his son repeatedly in the process of discovery. Fewer than 1% of casualties of the war came about through use of poison gas, essentially because of the speed of gas mask protection which he engendered.
I wanted to get a feel for the landscape, so as to be able to colour that chapter in appropriately. An interesting sidetrip was to the trenches still surviving behind the museum of Sanctuary Woods, winding rather than straight as I imagined, shoulder height, the craters of shells now strange pools in the woods. Standing on 'Hill 62' nearby, also called Mount Sorrel, was another poignant moment for recollecting the folly of war - young Canadians crossing the ocean to die in the mud at the foot of this slightest of elevations among the fields of Flanders. Ypres itself is remarkably rebuilt from the rubble of the conflict, its main square approximating some authentic reconstitution of itself, the ramparts forming a very pleasant parkland walk around the bounds.
My next task is to actually settle into our house in the Pyrenees and write the Haldane book. Research pretty complete, the book's voice already there but as just one chapter. Internet access in the French village is dodgy. This comes from a hotel in the Auvergne, St Flour, with wifi access. One of the delights of the last years has been finding these special French towns en route between the UK and French homes. Lacking the UK home for now, this trip is a homecoming - one I am delighted with for the next two months.


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