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Cherche pas.  J’ai vrai - First World War from a Feng Shui perspective

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Cherche pas. J’ai vrai - First World War from a Feng Shui perspective

Battle of the Somme revisited

War Graves of Commonwealth soldiers

War Graves of Commonwealth soldiers

This summer I visited the First World War sites in Pas de Calais.  Clutching a copy of Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks) with its moving portrayal of this tragic moment in history, I was there to witness a tiny fraction of the 4-month horror that was the Battle of the Somme and to visit my daughter working there.

Remains of war

The war ended 100 years ago but every day new shells surface, some undetonated, along with other warfare debris.  On average 30 more bodies appear every year.

There is no escaping the consequences of man’s collective insanity embedded in this now tranquil landscape, despite the tastefully-designed memorial sites and the seldom applauded work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC ).  Their staff and team of gardeners are relentless in manning and maintaining them through all weathers, the biggest concentration of which are the 400+ cemeteries in Northern France and Belgium. 

The day after the first battle in which 1 million casualties were reported out of 3.5 million fighting men, some soldiers reported a low, continuous moaning rising up from the ground itself.  It wasn’t coming from the few remaining survivors, it was coming from the earth itself.  From a Feng Shui perspective trauma like this needs clearing from the environment and a counter-balancing healing energy introduced, which is exactly what the CWGC have been able do and why their continued presence is so important.  

Madness

Villagers were forced to abandon their homes and their farms so men could fight for priority over a ridge of land or push back the 12-mile front line to cross the no-man’s land separating sons, fathers and husbands on both sides.

 After the war the French Government had the idea to seal off this barren wasteland by planting a huge forest but local farmers were not in favour of this.  And who can blame them.  This was their home before the fight began.  Besides a forest would have rendered this area a ‘no-man’s land’ forever, with no-one being able to venture in there again safely.

Thiepval

Thiepval

Sheep are already set to graze on some war zones to keep the grass down because it’s considered better to blow a sheep up than a groundsman.  It’s a moot point isn’t it?  The fact is you can’t get rid of dangerous ammunition that easily.  Much of it is too deeply buried.  The options are to keep pushing it back down into the earth when it tries to surface - and some people are employed just to do that - or transport it away to blow it up, which has additional dangers to it. 

German War Graves

German War Graves

"T'is ne'er worth it"

The First World War is over but the energy of violence and anguish is embedded in this countryside.  In Feng Shui we explore this as ‘predecessor history’ and it can continue to exert an influence over the destiny of a place unless attended to.   I was fascinated to learn the German army gravitated to Thiepval and occupied the ridge again in the Second World War.  They headquartered right underneath the 45 metre high monument itself, climbing the spiral staircase inside the thick columns to engrave their names around its summit.  

“T’is ne’er worth it” – Harry Patch

“T’is ne’er worth it” – Harry Patch

My purpose in writing is not to glorify the Great War in any shape or form - and I never once got this impression from CWGC personnel.  Nor was it to stand victorious on a piece of turf called Thiepval as member of the Commonwealth, which bears both the British and French flags and the names of the 72,000 commonwealth soldiers who died in the vicinity.  It’s worth remembering thousands of German soldiers died here too.

Pilgrimage lest we forget

I believe it’s important we make a pilgrimage to these sites - and to include our children and young students - because there is already a generation between them and the World Wars.  We need to be reminded of our capacity for aggression, which becomes evident when we insist our point of view is right and then convince ourselves this justifies the need to defend our corner.  

Visiting these beautiful sites you cannot help be moved by the tragedy; our lives predicated on the shoulders of the brave men and women before us.  Whole villages lost their sprightly youth on the first day of battle.  I shuddered to think of the grief endured back home.  The oldest male First World War veteran, Harry Patch, a combat soldier in Passchendaele, died aged 109 only a few years ago.  He’d been wounded three times in action and still miraculously survived. While he stayed quiet about the war until later in life then he had much to say about it which amounted to:  “T’is ne’er worth it. "

"I felt then, as I do now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder.”

Lest we should also forget, in this war you were shot at dawn by your comrades if you deserted.  Perhaps you were too traumatised to face going over the line again to be met by a bevy of machine gun fire.  But if you hid instead then this was your fate.  Horrendous.

Moose at Canadian visitor's centre

Moose at Canadian visitor's centre

Locating your forebears

I was delighted to hear the CWGC have created a Foundation so provide informative tours by students and graduates at the main visitors’ centres of Thiepval, France and Ypres, Belgium.  These operate from the outbreak of war on July 28 (1914) to Armistice Day on November 11 (1918).

Following their intense two-week on-site training to be tour leaders, these students will continue to be ambassadors on their return home, spreading awareness in schools, colleges of the trouble with war and the consequences of it.  The free guided tours are packed with a variety of content.  You can miss so much by drifting around the memorial sites on your own, although you may still want to take a moment before or after to stand and reflect in silence.   

Ancestry

If you come supplied with as much information as you can about a family member lost in action, they will not only direct you towards their grave or memorial site but also help you to flesh out your family tree.  I am from Devonshire stock and I travelled all the way to France to discover my grandfather came from a family of 11, including two sets of twins.  Since I've only managed to have one child I found this awesome. I knew my grandfather had not fought in France but I didn’t know why.  I learnt he had been seconded to the Indian army and accompanied them to Mesopotamia..  As a secondary school teacher who’d never been north of south Devon, this must have been an extraordinary awakening.  All this information and more was provided by the highly-informed History graduate on the help desk.

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Open all year

We decided to visit the Devonshire regiment cemetery, a small site tucked away behind a copse of trees, beautifully maintained and peaceful.  That was before the tranquillity of the moment was disturbed by the sudden appearance of a fighter jet, capable of travelling at a supersonic speed of 1,550 mph, whose shrill engine pierced the air.  While in the nearby wood we could hear regular gunfire from farmers killing off crop marauders.  Both noises were enough to be intimidating.  I could only imagine how soldiers would have felt to hear the continuous onslaught of machine guns or be bombarded with mortars leaving massive craters in the ground around them while shattering the bodies of men in the process.

Thiepval and Ypres are within 1 ½ hours of the Channel Tunnel and the Calais and Dunkerque ferry ports respectively.  The lovely French town of Arras and the Belgium town of Gent are good places to stay, within easy drive of the main sites.  We must visit these memorial sites, not just to honour those who sacrificed their lives for us.  We must also be on guard to our capacity to be judgemental and decide that we are right and another is wrong when it’s only our thinking that makes it so.  Our unexplored thoughts, yet believing them to be absolutely right, is how disputes brew, fights begin, and wars take hold.  Meanwhile Harry Patch reminds us of the consequences: 

“I’ve never got over it.  You never forget it.  Never.

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That Which Stands In The Way Is The Way

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My newly-graduated daughter is preparing job applications. When you're young and full of energy, when you've worked hard and got a first-class honours degree (History), when you already show valuable work experience acquired in the school holidays and you still don't get snapped up, it's one of life's many challenges she's to face.

One of five
She was pipped at second interview for two lip-smacking jobs that on paper suited her down to the ground.  In one she made it past 130 applicants to arrive on the short list of five.  I was mightily impressed.  At the palace too.  Yes, The Palace. On her first visit she was directed to the wrong gate and had to make a right royal run through the Queen's back corridors to get there on time. 

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'i' before 'e'
The second near miss was for the National Trust at Cliveden; the most frequented NT property in the whole  UK apparently.  Her writing sample they liked very much but they didn't like her spelling Cliveden wrong! 

Having spent the previous three years in Clifton at Bristol University, it was a mistake easily made under pressure - but 'Clifton' cost her.

On another occasion she turned down a marketing communications job because the photos of the product turned her stomach.  Fair enough I suppose, she's not a scientist.  You have to draw the line somewhere and hers went right through the centre of a colostomy bag.  
 
Wisdom of hindsight
This episode recalls to mind a treatise on fate.  Sometimes in life you have accept things as they are presented. Sometimes this means doing the one thing you're resisting like crazy.  Having put up a fervent protest, only to find a particular clump of chewing gum is still sticking to your shoe, then the odds are it has your name on it.  Somewhere in the distant future, you'll look back and realise how essential that hated, fated job or task turned out to be.

Since I can't impart these words of wisdom on my daughter because I'm only her mother and what do I know, I'm sharing them with you instead.  Thank you!

Touched
My first-ever job after University was to work for my father.  I absolutely didn't want to sell swimming pools or hot tubs.  Nor did I want to start immediately after graduation.  I wanted to travel, see the world, spread my wings.  He wasn't at all sympathetic - nor impressed with my Anthropology degree from Durham University; I was of no use to anyone with that!  

Readers, he had a particularly chauvinistic attitude and thankfully it is not everybody's experience of fatherly love.  Anyway his solution was to slot me straight into secretarial college where two afternoons a week, I learned to touch-type on a typewriter; one of those quaint devices with honky-tonk keys.  One false letter and you had to tear the whole sheet of paper out and start again. 

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Fate worse than death
Not only was it my job to type, I had first to decipher the illegible hand-written scrawl of three male directors and churn out their correspondence error-free.  Computers had made it onto the scene but they were still comparable to the size of a double-decker bus so not many businesses had room for them.  We didn't.
 
Primitive
The other excruciating job I had was to front the showroom as sales receptionist.  Excruciating because I didn't know a thing about swimming pools.  But I knew a lot about the culture and behaviour of primitive peoples and not many of them came into the showroom, not even in Devon.   With one eye on the typewriter, both ears on the telephone for in-bound calls, the other eye was free to meet and greet customers shopping for this high-end product after they'd finished at the market.  Once I'd got over the initial embarrassment, curiously enough I enjoyed it.

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If the esteemed Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor, had been around I'm sure he would have counselled me accordingly: "That which stands in the way is the way, Mary." 

Hate mail
But I was two thousand years too late for him so I kept on hating the typing.  And I hated my father for insisting I had to do it.  After a year of this I quit the job but only after I'd inadvertently mastered touch-typing at speed.  I moved to London and with my newly-acquired typing skills, bluffed my way into a secretarial job where I worked long hours for three months and saved enough to head out across Africa for six months.   

Post-Africa, I got a job for a Mail Order Book Club.  My job was to select books for three clubs and to commission copy-writing and design to produce the monthly catalogues. In contrast I loved it.  Four years later I volunteered redundancy and moved to Richmond, Surrey and offered my services as a freelancer in Marketing Communications.  Now I'm the one writing copy, which means that dreaded touch-typing skill is coming in very handy again.   "That which stands in the way is the way, Mary." 

More than words  
The business grew and within two years my partner resigned his job as a Marketing Director for a Financial Services company and joined me.  Not long after it seemed we became a full Direct Marketing Agency with 15 staff and a flotilla of company cars.  And now I'm still writing copy but for our Fortune 500 clients - banging out the words fast and furiously and well-paid for it using that fated touch-typing skill.  

Oh, and I'm the Sales & Marketing Director for the Agency as well.  Where on earth did I cut my teeth for this job?  As the sales receptionist in my father's torture chamber!  "That which stands in the way is the way, Mary."

Resistance is futile
Me thinks that once you've put up a stout protest and nothing changes then that's enough.  It's time to accept that which stands in your way is your way and to drop any resistance to it gracefully.  Because years later, when you're as old as me (lol) and get to join up the dots, you'll discover the heinous job or task proved to be a gift horse in the end. 

So thank you Dad for your contribution to my writing.   And thank you Marcus Aurelius, receiving you loud and clear. 

Addendum
I'd like to mention too I've almost finished my book and publish in 2018. It's around 55,000 words. Each one touch-typed, of course.

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