Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2015
In the Somme Valley on a day in spring in the early twenty-first century, almost a century after the Armistice that ended the First World War, all is peaceful. In the distance giant harvesters, marked by flashing orange lights, crawl through the fields. It is hard to believe that this verdant countryside was once a lunar landscape, the ground pulverised by incessant artillery fire, and the air stank of blood and cordite fumes.
The village of Pozières is located on a slight rise that provides panoramic views across the countryside to the south. In the distance the gleam of the golden Virgin atop the basilica at Albert marks the location of that town while, to the south-east, fields of ripening grain roll away towards the grove of trees around the village of Contalmaison.
The buildings of Pozi`eres straggle along the road that runs from Albert to Bapaume, as they had done in the years before 1914. Although the buildings appear to have been there for centuries, all have been built since the end of the First World War for, by the end of 1916, Pozières was a name on a map, and nothing more. The only indication that a village had once stood there was the slight stain of pulverised brick dust amid the shell craters.