The Western Front must have looked like this. Earth and rocks, blasted, torn and scattered; pools of murky water filling every rain-soaked depression; the accumulated detritus of hard fought conflict, here piled high in tangled heaps of twisted metal, there semi-submerged in the clinging mud like dead, wasted limbs desperately reach for the light. Snaking across this desolate land the trenches conceal the men, grim and determined, labouring beneath the ground, readying for the next phase of this interminable campaign that wages back and forth along the tortured front. Trenches dug are filled and dug again in accord with the mysterious stratagems of distant generals. It will all be over by Christmas, they say.
Meanwhile the monstrous tracked machines roar, clank and squeal in deafening clamour as they gouge out the land, while others pound like rapid fire artillery shaking the ground and rattling the windows of the estaminets behind the wire. Periodically, great blasts shatter the rock deep beneath the ground, heaving up the earth in a thunderous roar. Men look about them, smile nervously, not this time.
There are no bullets flying, though one can easily imagine as people duck through the gaps in the wire and dash quickly across no-mans-land, dodging the endless convoys of behemoths lumbering by on their way to the Front, with just a cursory wave to the MPs struggling valiantly to maintain some kind of order amid the chaos of ceaseless daily change.
It may not be war, but there are those who will still decry the folly of it all, the enormous cost not only to those who survive this epic struggle, but to their children and to the generations yet unborn.
Others see this as an opportunity for renewal, tearing out the old order and building for a future that is beyond our imagination – hopefully of greater import than the turmoil of where and at what angle we should park our cars.
Ah, the clue. Yes, far from the storied fields of Flanders, it is the Mountain Kingdom now caught up in this epic trial, testing the courage and patience of its inhabitants as they daily navigate around the gashed belly of our beleaguered town. It is not Flanders, but if it were we should then have something really worth complaining about. So let our imaginations flow. See our downtown as it will be, imagine what it could be, then let us make it so, as the skylarks sing and the poppies grow.
The Great War was not to be the war to end all wars, but ours will hopefully be good for another hundred years. And it will definitely be over by Christmas.