If you read The Times, you’ll know the newspaper is carrying a report on the War every day from their coverage on that day a hundred years ago. On August 14th, 1917, a piece appeared under the headline:
It’s not directly about the landscape at La Boisselle, but the correspondent writes of the plant-life on the battlefield near Arras, mainly weeds and thistles. ‘The emblem of Scotland’ he wrote, ‘grows more beautifully than at home, perhaps in honour of the waving tartans which led the way over these hills in April.’
He writes of poppies like ‘red spots in a Scotch tweed, great clusters of cornflowers of a blue as deep as the best garden-grown delphiniums’, and ‘yellow ragwort raises its vulgar head, and the mauve scabious stand out as the aristocrats of their plebeian and vigorous world’.
But then he goes on to write:
‘What will the future of this ground be? In many places the soil has been buried and the sterile chalk spread thickly on top of it. To fill in the shell holes will be possible, though laborious, but to replace the soil impossible.
‘A crop sown on land of this sort – filled-in shell-holes – with good soil intervening – would be so ragged and uneven as not to repay the expense of cultivation. It is doubtful if the stretches of country where the shell-holes and trenches are practically contiguous can again be cultivated for generations.
They might be made into a sheep grazing ranch or be planted with timber. A belt of trees from the sea to Switzerland, with broader tracts to mark the great battlefields, would be a remunerative monument to the victims of the great war.’
You might wonder what he’d make of the western Front now.