During the multiannual exploration of landscapes for the Hindenburgline Project, the photographer regularly stumbled upon remarkable finds. Items that could be termed ‘silent witnesses’ of the Great War. This certainly applies for some of the items: a fragment of the now-derelict swimming pool for German soldiers behind the lines – high up in the hills – near Côtes d’Échery; a piece of wood from the stump of a tree destroyed by drumfire on the slopes of the Collet du Linge. Shells, or shell fragments, found on the battlegrounds near Arras, the Somme, Reims or Verdun. Unidentifiable shards of iron from the Vosges Mountains, or from what is today a beautiful field full of stunning red cabbages by the hamlet of Halfwegehuys between the villages of Langemark and Poelkapelle – now infamous as the site where poison gas was used against other human beings for the very first time. It’s easy to collect a handful of such souvenirs ... But the majority of the collection consists of pebbles and stones, feathers large and small, twigs and branches, flowers, herbs and crops – in short, everyday objects that are more or less specific to a certain location. Such as the ‘Gaize d’Argonne’; a light and porous kind of stone that is apparently found only in the Argonne, Japan and Scotland. Or the iconic poppy, found at virtually all battlefields and extolled in so many poems by so many soldiers – with the poem by the Canadian military physician John Alexander McCrae (1872-1918) as the most famous example:
In Flanders fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
o you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.