Crawl as far as you can and wait for the bearers

Today’s title is part of a line from the poem ‘In Parenthesis’ by David Jones, a soldier of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, wounded at The Somme in 1916. To me, this particular line, more than any other sums up the futility, helplessness and horror of the trenches of the First World War.

Many sl bloggers have written about the First World War Poetry Digital Archive at Frideswide, (you can check out the online Archive here), but i think it merits a further mention – indeed, i’d suggest that it’s one of those Sims that reminds us that there is far more to sl than music, dancing and vampires. It’s a place that i’ve been intending to visit for a while, but somehow i’d never got around to it – now that i’ve been, i have to say that i’m not entirely sure how i feel about it. That’s nothing to do with its validity as a ‘proper’ use of the sl platform – i happen to think that it is – neither does my discomfort arise from the way in which the Sim presents itself: It proffers its message sympathetically, presenting the facts without being judgemental or purposely manipulating the participant. If i had to try and put my finger on it, i think it boils down to the immersive nature of sl itself… To me, something just didn’t feel right about exploring the trenches, dugouts and no-man’s land of The Great War, albeit virtually – it felt voyeuristic and shallow – but maybe that’s just me.

It’s atmospheric but not in a Hollywood style; if you go expecting explosions, gunfire and blood and gore, then you’re going to be disappointed – yes, you do see and hear the odd muted explosion, but that’s not what this Sim is all about, because it’s about the people; the soldiers who fought in the war to end all wars.

It takes a little while for it all to sink in.

Aesthetically, i found the boxes linking to audio feeds, the poseballs and the media prims distracting and unwelcome intrusions… i found myself thinking that they could have been disguised as ammunition boxes or something, with discrete instructions explaining what they were – i was missing the point completely! Sure, they look out of place, but let’s face it, no Sim is going to be able to replicate the full horror of the trenches by any stretch of the imagination – the scenery sets the mood, but it’s the testimonies preserved in those audio recordings and video feeds that matter far more than the landscape – and when you grasp that, you see the whole Sim in a wholly different light, with a clarity that rises above the superficialities of pixel accuracy.

i think it was around the point where i was listening to the stories of lice hunts, ‘going over the top’ and Siegfried Sassoon’s poem asking, ‘does it matter?’, (about losing your legs… your sight… your life); that i started to understand the vision behind this place.

It’s disturbing and unsettling in its honesty –  being there raised those awkward questions about war that humankind has asked throughout the ages, time and time again; questions that we’ve always known the answers to, yet we choose not to take notice, pleading ignorance or worse – and the fighting still goes on – Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori! 

Be it the trenches of The Somme, the battlefield of Passchendaele or the beaches of Normandy, the markets of Sarajevo or the streets of Mogadishu, it seems that we just haven’t learned a damn thing.

i came away from Frideswide with a sense of frustration and unease – you have to question the kind of logic that says sacrificing the lives of thousands of people is an acceptable and rational means of achieving any objective, yet alone one of questionable motive; yet how many more will have to lose their lives in warfare before we accept that there must be better ways?

Listening to the words of those young men who poured their hearts out in verse in the midst of battle, you come to the realisation that they did so for a reason. More eloquent than any politician’s speech, more persuasive than any dictator’s orders, their words hold a powerful and compelling message for us… but will we ever listen?

s. x

I heard my friend cry, and he sank to his knees,
Coughing blood as he screamed for his mother,
And I fell by his side, and that’s how we died,
Clinging like kids to each other
Motörhead – 1916 

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