Monday 9 April 2012: Echoes of 1940
Back in 1940 Britain was bracing itself in anticipation of an invasion by Nazi Germany. Defences were built along all the likely landing beaches, including our own sandy beach that runs south from Newburgh all the way to Aberdeen, 12 miles away. The beach was lined at high water with large concrete blocks designed to prevent tanks and other vehicles from landing. Occasionally one comes across graffiti inscribed into the wet concrete by the soldiers building the defences. Most consist of the initials of the soldier, but some, including this caricature of Winston Churchill, are much more complex creations.
The barbed wire in front of the block is part of the original 1940 defences and has only recently been exposed by wave action. Barbed wire for me sums up much of the horror of warfare and no-one uses the metaphor more powerfully than does Wilfred Owen, the first world war poet.
My soul looked down from a vague height with Death,
As unremembering how I rose or why,
And saw a sad land, weak with sweats of dearth,
Gray, cratered like the moon with hollow woe,
And fitted with great pocks and scabs of plaques.
Across its beard, that horror of harsh wire,
There moved thin caterpillars, slowly uncoiled.
It seemed they pushed themselves to be as plugs
Of ditches, where they writhed and shrivelled, killed.
By them had slimy paths been trailed and scraped
Round myriad warts that might be little hills.
From gloom's last dregs these long-strung creatures crept,
And vanished out of dawn down hidden holes.