We were lucky enough to be on the bridge of the ferry as it docked in Calais: through the enormous window, it was rather like watching 2001: A Space Odyssey on an Imax screen; only the music of the Blue Danube was missing.
This piece of precision geometry prepared me for another: the Thiepval Arch, built by Lutyens to commemorate the 72,000 fallen of the Somme whose bodies were never found. It takes the form of a triumphal arch, the top of which, rising above a grove of trees, is visible for miles.
Its base is broken up into blocks, providing enough space for the names of all the missing to be carved in alphabetical sequence. It’s easy to find Butterworth, G.-the composer George Butterworth, who died in a field outside the village of Pozières. We stayed in Butterworth Farm, renamed in his memory.
There are more than 400 British cemeteries on the Somme, beautifully kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The rows of identical stone headstones, carved with the soldier’s name or the words ‘Known unto God’, are eloquent not only of the sacrifice of so many young men, but of the care taken to remember them. The French preferred concrete crosses, the Germans mass graves. Cultural differences persist even in death.