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A Duty Nobly Done — Anselm and Margriet in Flanders and Picardy

A Duty Nobly Done — Anselm and Margriet in Flanders and Picardy

Old Jan 6th, 2009, 05:33 PM
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The person who suggested writing a book about your unusual trip is right. With all those letters and your experiences interwoven, the story would make a nice travel book.
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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 06:08 PM
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I am truly touched and moved by the words you have recorded here. The passion and angst felt by those who have been moved to visit war sites is nearly indescribable.

I presently teach a course that covers Canadian involvement in World War I and the letters from Margriet's Great Uncle Harry certainly provide many opportunities for lessons. Thank you for sharing this intensely personal experience with us.

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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 07:38 PM
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Wow. Thanks.
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Old Jan 7th, 2009, 06:16 AM
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Tears are coming down my cheeks and shivers are running up and down my spine as I read your report, Anselm.
Your writing makes me feel as if I were in those fields to see what you saw and feel what you felt. Thank you.
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Old Jan 7th, 2009, 07:06 AM
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A great story, beautifully told.

You and other readers might be interested in a photo gallery I came across recently from the Canadian section of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It's a series of photos taken mostly in the early 1920's showing the cemeteries with the original wooden crosses and some of the memorials such as the Menin Gate and Thiepval while under costructions.


The Canadian War Museum also has a wonderful on-line archive of photos, documents and objects from the First World War


For those who may be in Ottawa between now and Apr 13, the CWM has three temporary exhibitions on the First World War: "Trench Life-A Survival Guide" and two photography exhibitions--one of CWGC Cemeteries, and another of present scenes along the entire front from the North Sea to Switzerland by Michael St. Maur Shiel which are simply stunning.

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Old Jan 7th, 2009, 07:13 AM
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Thanks, laverendrye, I will be in Ottawa for Winterlude so will definitely see this exhibit.
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Old Jan 7th, 2009, 08:14 AM
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For once in my life words fail me, other than to say thanks to all who have posted.

Margriet is working away on the hotels and restaurants, and I have a little note to post on the new apartment in Paris, so there is a bit more to come. Photos, too. Eventually.

laverendrye, thanks for the links. My daughter (who is studying in Ottawa) had mentioned that exhibit when she was home at Christmas. I'll take a look when I'm in Ottawa next month.
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Old Jan 8th, 2009, 04:13 PM
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<b>Hotels and Restaurants: Flanders and Picardy</b>
Our trip to Flanders and Picardy took five days, and we stayed in four different hotels, two in France and two in Belgium. Thank you to all those who made suggestions last spring.

<b>Lille:</b> After an overnight flight, and a train trip, our requirements for a hotel for our first night in France are always modest. It must be quiet, clean, and easy to get to. After sifting through the possibilities and reading the reviews, it generally comes down to an older hotel, close to the station. These places often get mixed reports—one person’s charming is another person’s shabby, after all—and the <b>H&ocirc;tel de la Paix</b> (www.hotel-la-paix.com) is no exception. In November, it seems to cater to business travellers, but it certainly suited our needs. The staff were pleasant, it was quiet, it was neither too hot nor too cold, and the bed was comfortable.

Our criteria for a restaurant on the first night are equally simple: it must be close to our hotel and ready to serve dinner before 8 pm. This usually means a brasserie, and in Flanders, not surprisingly, a brasserie like Les Trois Brasseurs really does make their own beer and serves a tasty choucroute garnie, as well.

<b>Poperinge, Belgium:</b> A romantic luxury hotel is a sure antidote to short, dark November days. The mid-week special at the <b>Hotel Recour</b>—two nights for the price of one—makes it even more appealing. We stayed in the main house in one of “romantik” rooms named for the Muses. Ours was Euterpe, and it was every bit as nice as on the website (www.hotelrecour.com). The spacious rooms and high ceilings keep the decoration from being too frou-frou; there are comfortable chairs and mohair throws; a bath you can swim in, and a comfortable bed with fine linens. The rooms in the attached annex, which are named for architects and designers (van der Rohe, Eames), are decorated more sparely, but no are less luxurious.

On one of the two nights we stayed there, we ate at the hotel’s restaurant, Pegasus. This was expensive, but it was full-bore gastronomie, with hot and cold running waiters, bringing countless small plates with interesting food pairings—raw tuna with celeriac, foie gras with pur&eacute;e of Brussels sprouts, for example—all intensely flavoured and delicious.

The buffet breakfast, pricey at &euro;17, is lavish (and what’s not to love about chocolate for breakfast)? We rationalized the cost as a roundabout and swings situation, since we ate sandwiches for lunch.

<b>Kemmelberg, Belgium:</b> The <b>Hostellerie Kemmelberg</b> (www.kemmelberg.be/) is a rustic lodge sitting at the highest point in Flanders (156 metres above sea level). We understand that the view is spectacular. On our visit, however, the hotel was shrouded in fog. If you go in November you might be better off not paying extra for the valley view. The room was small, though comfortable, but the public rooms are spacious with large windows overlooking ... whatever there is to see. We commented on leaving that we would love to come back when we might be able see a little more, and the manager gave us a postcard; it <u>is</u> a lovely view.

The restaurant at the Kemmelberg serves excellent classic cuisine. We had the set menu of lemon sole with sauerkraut, oysters with champagne sauce and watercress soup, pheasant with braised endives, puff pastry with banana mousse and kiwi sorbet, and our meal began with three amuses-bouches and ended with three mignardises.
Breakfast here was excellent, too, and according to the card on the table, the eggs come from their own chickens.

<b>Albert, Picardy:</b> We received a warm welcome at this particular H&ocirc;tel de la Paix, a simple but pleasant family-run hotel near the centre of Albert that caters to business travellers and to the Great War set. It’s well maintained, and the bathroom was impressively new. The hotel restaurant is deservedly popular and was full every night with both hotel guests and local residents. Our one caveat is that the hotel has changed hands since we were there in November.

<b>A Few Words about Food</b>
<i>Lunch/</i>: Our first lunch of the trip, in Ieper, was pleasant, but heavy. We realized that we wouldn’t make much progress if we made it a habit to eat such lunches. Besides, much of our trip was to be through small towns and villages, so we decided to pick up sandwiches along the way. This was easy enough in Belgium—<i>broodjies</i> were readily available from bakeries in most villages, and in Kemmelberg we even found a sandwich shop. French Flanders was a different matter. We stopped at three bakeries, and at each when we saw no sandwiches, asked if they had any quiche, perhaps. We’ve bought quiche from bakeries in Provence and in the Auvergne, but, apparently, chez les Ch’tis they don’t eat quiche. Who knew?

We were very impressed by the food in Belgium, where even a simple meal of steak, fries, and salad (Caf&eacute; de la Paix in Poperinge) is thoughtfully prepared. It is definitely a country of <i>Patapoufs</i>. Coffee always seems to come with cake (sometimes with cake <i>and</i> chocolate), even at the end of a meal. There were many highly regarded restaurants in the area, and we were sorely tempted to try out the Hostellerie St-Nicolas in Elverdinge just outside of Ieper. They offer a three-course lunch with wine and coffee for the astonishingly low price (did I mention they have two Michelin stars?) of &euro;48. Alas, we realized that doing so would cut short our touring for the day. But we’ll definitely return to Flanders—and we’ll be sure to go when we are more likely to see the view from Mount Kemmel.
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Old Jan 8th, 2009, 05:36 PM
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Anselm and Margriet, thank you so much for sharing this. I think your thread title could apply just as well to how you have fufilled our duty to honor and remember those who fought in the Great War. Although I have visited many of the WWII sites in Normandy, I have not (yet) had the opportunity to go to the places you describe. Thanks again.
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Old Jan 8th, 2009, 06:26 PM
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Anslem, what a beautiful and moving report, made all the more poignant because of the ridiculous circumstances and chauvinistic enthusiasms that led to the blood bath of WWI. Its painful history is often eclipsed by its consequence, WWII.

Those wishing to understand more about the &quot;Great War's&quot; genesis might read KING, KAISER, TSAR Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War by Catrine Clay. This history describes the intrigues, misunderstandings, and jealousies that led these three grandsons of Queen Victoria to allow circumstances to result in this debacle.

Again, thank you for sharing. RIP, Cousin Harry.
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Old Jan 9th, 2009, 01:19 AM
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The number of places called H&ocirc;tel de la Paix and Caf&eacute; de la Paix in Northeastern France says a lot about what they have been through.
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Old Jan 9th, 2009, 02:40 AM
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ANd special thanks to Maigriet ,too for her hotel and restaurant report.

We too stayed on Mont Kemmel but we were able to enjoy the view.

I must put the Hostellerie St-Nicolas in Elverdinge on our to do list for the next time we are in Ieper

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Old Jan 9th, 2009, 04:15 AM
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Anselm, thank you for an interesting and profoundly moving trip report. Once again it is the words of the participant, and not the backward glance of the historian, that bring these events to life.
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Old Jan 9th, 2009, 07:42 AM
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wow. thank you.
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Old Jan 9th, 2009, 08:12 AM
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hi anselm,

I just found this after what I had thought was a particularly hard week at work - you and uncle harry put my troubles into their true perspective.

i echo what others have said - both uncle harry's and your writing on this subject deserve a wider audience. and you have prompted me to research my own grandfather's role in WW1, which thankfully [my father having been born in 1923] he survived.

regards, ann
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Old Jan 9th, 2009, 08:12 AM
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<b>Paris, slowly</b>

Like a very good meal, Paris is a city best savoured, not rushed. We took long walks, poking into new neighbourhoods and re-visiting old favourites. On a sunny day, we sat in Tuileries, our feet up on the edge of the fountain; when we finally moved on, we made it no further than Palais Royal, where we found another fountain for our feet. We went to one museum, la Mus&eacute;e des Arts et m&eacute;tiers. We attended the Fodorite get-together at Gallopin, where we had the pleasure of meeting PatrickLondon, Nikki, and Avalon and her husband.

We alternated each day between dining out and preparing a meal in the apartment, so we spent a lot of time shopping for food. Nikki joined us for dinner at the apartment one evening. We prepared pork chops with mushrooms, Dijon mustard, and cream. Nikki brought a wonderful desert. If you felt your ears burning in November, it was because we were talking about you.

Margriet made several trips to BHV and returned talking about <i>papeterie</i> and doorknobs. She found her way to La Droguerie and bought wool and books about knitting. In the late afternoon she worked away on her spinning wheel (yes, she did bring a spinning wheel, but I’ll let her tell that tale). I spent my time reading of war and thinking about Major Arthur. Paris—rich, elegant, and enticing—pulsed around us; we felt delightfully at home.

We rented a newly renovated apartment on Rue des Archives, between Rue Rambuteau and BHV. We have dealt with the owners before; they have a large flat on Rue des Petits Champs that we have mentioned in another trip report.

Rue des Archives is a vibrant street. The sidewalks are busy and the caf&eacute;s are full. The street is lined with small shops—jewellers, newsagents, bakeries, an excellent butcher, a couple of wine stores. Just around the corner on Rue Rambuteau are more specialty shops, including a fishmonger, several greengrocers, another butcher, a cheese shop, and a Franprix.

The apartment has an interesting layout: from the entrance hall, there is a large bedroom off to the right, with windows overlooking the street. The dining room and kitchen are straight ahead, also with windows on the street. The sitting room is off to the left, and the second bedroom (with an ensuite bathroom and shower) beyond that. The main bathroom, with a huge comfortable tub, is also off the main entrance hall.

The decorating has that touch of warm welcome that we loved at Rue des Petits Champs, although the owner mentioned to us that she wanted to adjust a few things, such as adding more rugs and rearranging the lighting in the sitting room. The linens are superb, the bed is comfortable. (We used the bedroom off the living room, with windows onto a courtyard. Next time we’ll try the bedroom overlooking the street. It’s slightly larger, and we realized that Rue des Archives becomes very quiet at night.)

The kitchen is wonderfully designed, with clever use of space. There is a stone floor (surprisingly comfortable underfoot and easy to keep clean) and black granite counter-tops. This was our first encounter with an induction stove; we’re now smitten. Everything worked perfectly, a testament to the owners’ care before putting it on the rental market: the wireless internet, the dishwasher, the TV, the stove and oven, the washer and dryer, the heating system, and the door locks.

This was our third time renting from the owners, Sheila and Bruno. They are very easy to deal with, straightforward, and prompt. Their local representative, a man named Roland, is charming, helpful, and droll. Here’s a link to the apartment listing:


And here is a link to their place on Rue des Petits Champs:


Just two more posts to go. Margriet will be along tomorrow to talk about Paris restaurants and then I’ll add a bit of practical information about researching war journeys.
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Old Jan 9th, 2009, 08:27 AM
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Anselm and Margriet - thank you again for this wonderful trip report. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing Harry's and your journeys with us.
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Old Jan 9th, 2009, 01:25 PM
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That was fun. Let's do it again some time.
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Old Jan 11th, 2009, 10:03 AM
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<b>Eating in Paris</b>

After 35 years, <b>L’Ambassade d’Auvergne</b> has become one of those Paris institutions. There’s a formality to the service, but it’s not mechanical. You feel that even though he’s done it a thousand times, the waiter enjoys the ritual of the aligot—lifting the wooden spoon high and letting the pur&eacute;e of potatoes, cream, and cheese fall in a sheet back into the copper pot. It’s open on Sunday, which is a bonus. I’m not sure that I’d go there in the summer; I love the food of Auvergne, but it’s hearty fare.

We enjoyed the brisk and cheerful service at <b>L’As du Falafel</b>, and the tasty food—falafel, salade isra&eacute;lienne, and schwarma. We’ll be back.

<b>Au Vieux Ch&ecirc;ne</b>: We love this place, both for the food, which is always interesting and delicious, and for the feeling of a team working together to make their customers happy. It envelops you with good humour. This was our fourth visit, and they’ve never put a foot wrong. They sell wine by the glass, and if you put yourself in their hands, their wine choices are thoughtful: both appropriate and affordable.

<b>Caf&eacute; Constant</b>: The food, of course, was wonderful. There is a very reasonably priced set menu, but we were seduced by the specials on the blackboards—oysters followed by roast scallops for Anselm (both of which he declared were the best he’d ever eaten); langoustine followed by pigeon for me. Judging by the number of regulars, the owner’s dream of it being a neighbourhood bistrot has been fulfilled. We were delighted by one old gentleman whose table was specially set with a placemat. Shortly after he began to eat his entr&eacute;e, napkin tucked under his chin, a young man came in from a nearby store and delivered his shopping to him.

Like other brasseries we’ve been to—Au Pied de Cochon, Petit Bofinger, Thoumieux—<b>Gallopin</b> runs like a well-oiled machine, which may be why it’s a little lacking in soul. But the room is lovely—all dark wood and mirrors and white tablecloths—the company was delightful, and it was open on a holiday.

We decided to try <b>Le Rollin</b> after reading a review in <i>Le Figaro</i>. It praised the bistrot for its generous portions (perhaps too generous, we thought), its atmosphere, and its young chef, “qui adore son m&eacute;tier.” We were able to watch him cheerfully working his magic in a kitchen the size of a postage stamp. We were surprised to see so few people there on a Friday night, and the waiter remarked that the economic downturn was taking its toll. We hope Le Rollin and its three friendly young owners can hold on.

<b>Rue des Archives</b>: The food we cook for ourselves in France is much the same as we make at home. But the yogurt is Mamie Nova, the ham is carved by the butcher off the bone, and the endive, apple, and blue cheese salad is made with Fourme d’Ambert.

Before arriving at rue des Archives, we had checked out the distance to rue Montorgueil, but as it turned out everything we wanted could be found within a few blocks. After a couple of days we knew which was our favourite bakery and that we preferred the butcher on rue des Archives to the big one on Rambuteau. The butcher’s shop is tiny, but holds an incredible variety—poultry, every cut of meat, and wonderful charcuterie—we particularly enjoyed the p&acirc;t&eacute; en croute, terrine au lapin, and celeri r&eacute;moulade. M. Letourneau seemed a little dour at first, but after I had told him how much we enjoyed his lamb chops, he always had a smile for me.

As Anselm mentioned, I loved the induction stove in the apartment. Because it heats the cookware rather than the cooking surface, it’s lightening fast, but it can also be adjusted to a very low simmer, unlike the gas stoves we’ve cooked on.


L’Ambassade d’Auvergne, 22, rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare 75003 Paris, 01 42 72 31 22
L’As du Falafel, 34, rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris
Au Vieux Ch&ecirc;ne, 7, rue du Dahomey, 75011 Paris, 01 43 71 67 69
Caf&eacute; Constant, 139, rue St-Dominique, 75007 Paris
Gallopin, 40, rue Notre Dame des Victoires, 75002 Paris, 01 42 36 45 38
Le Rollin, 92 avenue Ledru-Rollin (face au Monop’) 75011 Paris, 01 48 06 51 92

<b>A Few More Words about Food</b>

Parisians seem to have taken the smoking ban in stride. Instead of lighting up at the table, die-hard smokers can be seen outside taking a quick cigarette break between courses.

Judging by a scene we watched unfold, it can also provide an opportunity on a date gone wrong. A young woman who obviously just wasn’t that into <i>him</i> took advantage of a trip outside to make a call on her cell phone.

It’s a good thing that I’ll be retiring in a couple of years, because we are approaching the point where we can’t fit in the restaurants we’d like to try, and the tried and true, and a satisfactory amount of cooking from our suitcases. Obviously, the solution is to make our visits a little longer.
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Old Jan 11th, 2009, 10:08 AM
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<b>Practical information on maps, guides, and research</b>

We covered a 125-kilometre stretch of the Western Front in five days. It could be done in less, but many of the Great War sites are isolated and accessible only from small country roads. We made a lot of navigation errors in Belgium; I think they have some functionary who hides all the road signs.

We used the Michelin Local series maps: 302 (Nord) for French Flanders and Ypres and 301 (Pas-de-Calais) for the Somme. At 1/150,000, they show the back roads. I also used the French G&eacute;oportail website to pinpoint cemeteries and monuments (www.geoportail.fr/visu2D.do?ter=metropole). Click on “cartes” on the left hand menu to call up the IGN topographical map and then adjust the sliders to blend the map and aerial photograph to just the way you want it.

We carried the Michelin Green Guide for Northern France, but I would not recommend it for Great War touring. There are many other specialized guidebooks available, such as those of Major and Mrs. Holt, <i>The Middlebrook Guide to the Somme</i> by Martin and Mary Middlebrook, and <i>Before Endeavours Fade</i> by Rose Coombs.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains a database of more than one million Commonwealth war dead. We had no difficulty finding Harry’s record, which includes the unit he served with, the date of his death, and the location of his grave. Their website also provides a description of each Commonwealth war cemetery and information on how to get there (www.cwgc.org).

For anyone wishing to research a family member who served with the British army, there is an excellent “how to” at The Long, Long Trail (www.1914-1918.net). There is also a wonderful group of Great War enthusiasts (that may not be quite the right word) who post at the Great War Forum (http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?); they have a section devoted to researching individual servicemen.

The Long, Long Trail is also a good starting point to trace the movements of a particular
battalion or brigade. We started there and then went on to Google, which helped us to uncover a wealth of information, as well as pointers to relevant books. We ultimately went looking for unit war diaries, a search that took us to the National Archives of the United Kingdom (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk), the Library and Archives of Canada (www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/index-e.html), and the magnificent Australian War Memorial (www.awm.gov.au). A word of warning: war diaries can be anywhere from boringly loquacious to maddeningly laconic, but you may strike gold, as I did when I found the entry for the day Harry died. (That was actually a very emotional moment; I still recollect the hair standing up on the back of my neck.)

The National Archives of the UK will copy and send you what you want for a fee or you can make an appointment to view the documents in Kew. (We ordered copies of the war diaries we were looking for. It was cheaper than a flight to London.) The Australians and the Canadians have put up digital images of selected war diaries, the former at www.awm.gov.au/diaries and the latter at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/index-e.html. In the case of the Canadian material, however, I found the best way to get at them was through the Canadian Great War Project (http://www.canadiangreatwarproject.c...c/wdLacP31.asp).

Once you start reading war diaries, you will find references to those unique battlefield names, such as Sausage Valley or specific locations, such as Sheet 57.d. Square X.15.c.4.7. This is the point where you’ll want to reach for a Great War trench map. GH Smith publishes reproductions of trench maps; they can be ordered online or purchased at many of the historical sites on the Western Front. You can also view a selection online at McMaster University (http://library.mcmaster.ca/maps/ww1/home.htm). The Long, Long Trail site, mentioned above, provides instructions on how to read a trench map.

A note about Harry’s letters: judging by the gaps, we think we have no more than a third of what he probably wrote. The ones we have were all written in pencil, many on the kind of paper that folded up to create the envelope. To save paper, Harry rarely started a new paragraph on a new line. He instead simply opened up the space between one sentence and the next. I found his letters difficult to read, but Margriet worked her way through them, remarking that her mother’s handwriting was just like Harry’s. They are transcribed as written, hence the occasional missing word, spelling mistake, or grammatical clanger. The quotes in the trip report are exact, except where you see points of ellipsis, which indicate that we have dropped a few words for the sake of brevity. Matching the letters to the war diaries, I have pretty much figured out where they were written and what was happening around him when he wrote. I have started to notate them accordingly, and we aim to put them up on a website some day.

Finally, if you have gotten this far you must really be interested in the Great War. I spent a few days looking at the French battlefields of Verdun and Chemin des Dames in October 2007. The trip report—“I feared to set my foot upon a dead man’s cheek”—is here http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...p;tid=35091624 if you’d like to read it.
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