I am surrounded, on all sides, by ancient, moss-covered beech trees. Their golden canopy arches upwards, like the eves of a cathedral. Sun filters through their serrated leaves, forming dappled patches on the forest floor. A passing shower adorns their branches with a thousand jewel-like drops.
After the rain, the soil smells fresh, and the birds begin to chirp. My eyes and ears are open to the trees as they whisper their story to me.
This is where I played hide-and-seek when I was little. Here, where the beech trees drop their spent leaves, forming a soft carpet under-foot. The woodland forms a maze of paths, each weaving its way through a series of dips and hollows. Ancient tree roots thread their way across the surface of the hollows forming raised knotted veins.
I grew up in these woods. They were my playground. I experienced them at various times of the year. In the winter, the skeletal forms of the trees would sparkle with frost. In the spring there would be a haze of buds, which would blossom into emerald green. Then in the autumn, I would witness them in all their golden beauty.
However, this forest has a more serious side. The dips and hollows that I loved, as a child, hadn’t been formed by a sublime act of nature. They were there for a reason.
Nearly a century before I stand here now, grown men had shaped these woodlands. Their specific intention was to hide in the dips in order to practice warfare. Nature had reclaimed them, but couldn’t eradicate entirely their past.
For these were the practice trenches for the Great War, now known as the First World War. The men who trained in these woods later fought in the trenches at Flanders. Many didn’t return.
Standing here, today, I reflect on the sacrifices of those who have gone before me. Those who fought for our freedom, may they never be forgotten.
“Lest we forget”.