Many have forgotten the great sacrifice that was made by many soldiers on all sides during WW1 (The Great War). Many know nothing about WW1, why it started, who was involved and what happened. The period seems to be very much overshadowed in our modern awareness by the much more recent atrocities of WW2. I won’t talk about the history too much in this article, sufficed to say in La Somme Region of Northern France as many as 1.4 million soldiers from all sides died in less than 4 years. There was the biggest loss of men in British Military History, many soldiers from all sides lie in unmarked graves. So many young men died. So many mothers with broken hearts.
When I first had the vision of making this Pilgrimage a few months ago I wasn’t sure where the idea had come from. It felt as if it had just landed into my awareness like a beautiful white bird perching peacefully upon my shoulder, whispering gentle instructions into my ear. I recently experienced my heart breaking open due to experiencing some difficulties in relationship to a significant person in my life, as well I felt like I was going through a sort of death and dying inside of myself. Letting go of my fear of being seen, letting go of thinking there is still something else I yet need to do before I can shine my light brightly and be fully seen and appreciated standing in my truth & beauty. So when recently I begun feeling the need to leave London for a few days to facilitate myself into the next stage of life ‘La Somme’ came strongly into my awareness. Initially the idea was to walk from Albert to Peronne as a ritual of honouring the dead and broken hearted ones from both sides of this war. However due to some time restrictions and the fact that the major memorials and graveyards were not placed exactly in a straight line between these 2 places I decided to drive so I could cover more ground along the way. I had no idea why I felt so drawn into this Pilgrimage, I only knew that it felt like a clear next step.
The evening that I arrived into La Somme area, it was getting dark. This area of France is filled with farms and fields, it felt a little run down, as if the rest of France had forgotten this place. I stumbled upon a small cemetery neatly placed and beautifully well kept in between 2 farmer’s fields. A monument to the Highlanders Brigade (Scottish soldiers). This was an auspicious beginning as ancestors on my father’s side going back to WW1 period were in fact Scottish! Many of them also from northern England, where most of my ancestors were from in all directions. I placed 2 candles at the entrance of the cemetery. One to honour all those who died and one to honour all those who survived. I then placed 2 candles at the other end of the space next to the cross to create some intentional containment for the small ceremony. I sang and I asked the strong ones amongst them to show up for the ones who were struggling to move on. I felt a deep smile, the field was totally relaxed, the dead seemed to be indicating that I was the one struggling to move on :D Cheeky northern boys! What I understood from this initial experience was that the ancestors were showing up to support me, that this journey was about my movements forward and that no body needed my help, not least the dead and buried.
That first night I slept in the car park of the Newfoundland memorial.
This is the place where 24,000 British-Canadians died over a 4-month period at the beginning of the 1st World war, at the time Newfoundland in Canada was still a British held territory. The following day I visited Serre Road Cemeteries, Hawthorn RidgeCemetery, Pozieres cemetery & Thiepval (Monument to the lost ones). The northern French landscape in this part of France is literally covered with cemeteries & memorials from the Great War. Many of them honouring the allied nations from that period. Britain, Australia/NZ, Canada, India, France, South Africa. Honestly throughout much of this day I was finding it quite a challenge to stay present with myself. I was feeling lost and a bit dissociated, also resistant to singing in honour of the dead again, as if there was just too much to digest. I was reaching my limit. That was until I found the last tree.
The Last Tree
I arrived at Delville Wood late in the day, already feeling overwhelmed by the strength of the energetic fields that I had already experienced this day. I parked my car next to a cemetery which was by the road and walked into the woods towards this beautiful monument to the fallen. Delville Wood is largely a monument to the soldiers from South Africa who fought for the allies during WW1. I had already seen on the internet in preparing for this Pilgrimage that there was 1 tree left standing here that had seen the fighting of 1916, I had already felt deeply moved by this, so I knew this would be a good place for me to sing in honour of the fallen ones and take strength from this great ancestor.
“As I sing and drum I honour all those who sacrificed their lives here, I honour all those who died fighting for what they believed. I honour all those who survived and who walked forward with courage and passed life forward, may the flowers who survived here and the blossoms of life that were passed forward be received gratefully, may we receive blessings from all those who sacrificed their lives in the way that they did. As I sing and drum I honour the life of this tree and everything he has witnessed here in his long lifetime, I honour the strength of this tree for surviving even as many of his brothers had not. May I receive the blessings and wisdom of this tree as I sit by him now. I feel his roots under the ground. So much he has seen, so much he knows. Here I place a candle in honour of all those who died on the allied side, I will place another candle on the German side and may those candles burn brightly in peace together, may the dead rest peacefully and may we remember who we are as human beings in infinite spaciousness”.
Now I begun to feel myself deeply again after most of the day dissociated. Although I knew it wasn’t finished yet. The solution to this collective ritual/constellation was still soaring high in the air and had not yet landed on my shoulder. Now I was being moved towards the German side.
Resisting the Germans
As I left Delville Wood & begun driving towards the German burial grounds I felt a deep tiredness overwhelm me. As if I could go on no more. I tried to take the motorway towards Arras near to where the cemetery was but I kept taking the wrong turn-offs and heading in exactly the opposite direction, this happened 3/4 times and I ended up driving 2.5 hours to Arras rather than 1 hour which it originally should have taken. As I write this I start thinking about the length of this war and how many of the soldiers must have felt deeply exhausted, I think about how everyone thought that it would be over very quickly and yet it dragged on.
(I have had to take a 24hour break from writing this article at this point as I seem to be recycling something of this experience of resistance. The resistance was so great! Even now as I finally write this part of the article my WIFI connection is crashing for no reason and it has taken me 30mins to start writing again, now I recognize this is part of this field I am not getting identified in frustration like I was on the French motorway, shouting obscenities at the stupidity of French road signs and the insanity of google maps.)
So by the time I arrived in Arras I collapsed into my hotel room, exhausted. I decided to go to the German Burial grounds the following day on the way back to the ferry port. Also the idea of turning up at a German graveyard just as it was getting dark didn’t fill me full of enthusiasm. So I decided to wait for first light.
Germany & Beyond
I had been told about Maison Blanche in Neuville Saint-Vaast by a volunteer at the Newfoundland Memorial. I had asked him where the largest German Cemetery was. He had told me “it’s a bit of an eery place filled with black crosses”. This is where as many as 45,000+ German soldiers are buried, 8000+ of them unidentified. As I entered the field I felt a cool breeze ripple gently through my being, as if I was somehow being deeply welcomed here. I walked slowly in a clockwise direction around the cemetery, I felt very free to drum and sing here, I wasn’t experiencing the same inhibitions I had experienced the day before on the allied side. I walked almost all of the way around and then walked a little way into the centre. I lit a candle in honour of the Germans buried there and put it next to a tree near the graves. I sat on a large slab of stone and begun singing and drumming more deeply, more rhythmically in honouring of all those buried there. Suddenly as I was drumming, my awareness began to orient towards a rising birdsong from the branches of the tree, this birdsong began bringing me into a lightness of being, just as suddenly a little bird swooped down and landed on one of the black crosses just a few metres from me and continued to sing along with me in the same rhythm as my drum, it felt as if somehow we were both becoming one with the whole space, no separation, just synchronised beauty. It was an unbelievable experience. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I felt deep gratitude towards Germany. In this moment it was as if all the dead were smiling and singing joyously. In this moment of deep gratitude I remembered my teachers in Family Constellation, Svagito & Bert Hellinger amongst others German whose gifts to me have been immeasurable, I remembered that the UK company of my family from where I have been given so much financial support is a subsidiary of a German Corporation Dörken who were founded in 1892 & who survived both World Wars, I imagine not without getting some blood on their hands. So much spiritual and financial wealth I have received from Germany! I felt deeply grateful towards Germany. I realised that for so long I had been unconsciously loyal to the British arrogance against Germany which did not allow me to touch the unacknowledged grief on the German side and move forward in life. It seems so much remains ungrieved out of the arrogance of righteousness. So big are our hearts, so much more able than often we allow ourselves to experience. I also begun receiving deep insight about the life creating nature of the war, how much has been born out of everything that happened exactly as it happened? How everything that now is, owes its gratitude to everything that was. That if this war hadn't of happened, so much would be different and maybe also I would not exist, so in a way I owe a debt of gratitude towards the war for giving me life. One of my teachers Daan Van Kampenhout once wrote about Auschwitz, that when he visited there it opened up a space inside of him that surpassed any spiritual practice that he had experienced. I can say the same about Maison Blanche. I found freedom here in this place.
As I was leaving the cemetery I found some small wooden remembrance crosses. You could tell they were very old. The red poppies had been worn away by the rains and were now pure white. I felt there was a poetry in this. As white poppies represent the honouring of all those fallen on all sides. Eventually all loyalties are washed away by time and the dead all rest together.
Next month I will Pilgrimage to Normandy in France, to honour the dead and the broken hearted of WW2. On all sides. I look forward to sharing my journey with you.