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From the editor: It's right that we remember farming's fallen a century on

To stand on World War 1 battlefields which are now returned to crop production is a strange feeling.


Ben   Briggs

Ben   Briggs

While the land has regenerated over the past 100 years, the soil in certain parts still gives up its secrets every time the plough is pulled across.

 

Whether it is small bits of bullet casing, guns or unexploded shells, the border land between France and Belgium, pockmarked with military burial grounds, still bears the scars of that seminal conflict.

 

It is a place where several members of my own family are commemorated. My great-great uncle, James Holden, died of sepsis in a field hospital near the French coast in August 1915.

 

He was aged just 22 and a gravestone at Etaples Military Cemetery marks his passing. At Essex Farm Cemetery, near Ypres, Belgium, another great-great uncle, Edwin Bury, is commemorated.

 

Both were from the village of Guide, near Blackburn, Lancashire, and the whole family had links, in some form, to farming, something highlighted in a letter back from the front by Tom Holden, James’ cousin, in which he offered a critique of French farming.


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Written to his uncle, Thomas, it states: “You would agree with me that most of the work is done in an ancient style, with bullocks working and dragging loads of hay.”

 

Big believers in the power of the heavy horse, that same rivalry would no doubt exist today, but maybe it would be John Deere versus Fendt.

 

What it shows, though, is that amid the slaughter these were just normal young men doing their bit for the country they loved.

 

Their deeds and actions now take on huge poignancy and as this week’s special commemorative section shows, the choices families had to make and the loss they suffered is unimaginable.

 

And yet farming and the landscape of rural Britain also offered hope and then respite for those who returned from the front, many of whom would go on to rebuild their lives in agriculture.

 

It is therefore only right that this Sunday, a century on from the end of World War 1, we remember them and all that they gave in defence of freedom.

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