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CHANGING LANDSCAPES


The landscape of the battlefield changed as the people in France and Belgium began to rebuild their home and farms. Some guidebooks now claimed that travellers would be encouraged by the sight of reconstruction, but the reconstruction reduced the close link between battlefield tourism and an image of the war that stressed German barbarity. Once the ruins disappeared, the landscape was less likely to be of special interest or evoke anger against Germans which was present amongst British tourists. Most British travellers were not interested in reconstruction. They wanted to see the ‘real thing’, but the numbers of untouched trenches were fast shrinking in number. In the British battle areas sections of trenches were set aside. Commercial operators realised that travellers would pay to see a battlefield in its ‘original state’. Some of these became and still are popular destinations. Past criticism that these places exploited battlefields for commercial gain are long forgotten as even cross channel ferry services use them in their promotional material to encourage people onto their ships.

Other Dominion Governments also intervened and set aside small areas of the trench line as a reminder of the war. One traveller described his visit: we zigzagged along the duck-boards, and here are the grim reminders on every side of the fierce fighting, nothing altered from the time when war ended, helmets where they fell, many pierced with shrapnel; rifles rusty with mouldering stock; a rusty machine gun; rusty bayonet, mouldering packs, water bottles, mess tins – just where they fell’.

The more distant in time the war became, the greater the need amongst travellers to see evidence of the presence of war. Toc H successful campaigned to ‘protect’ one of the massive craters created by the explosion of mines in 1917 and the British Legion protected the remaining pill boxes in the Ypres salient from destruction by the Belgian government. The Legion’s guide to these pillboxes described them as ‘chief reminders of the scenes of heroic deeds of comradeship, and prowess of those who fought in the Salient during the memorable years of 1914-18’.

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