Battlefields of hay

Field of hay bales against a blue sky

For some reason (ask a psychologist) each time I drive past fields of hay bales, or whatever the rolled-up variety are called, I’m reminded of the German war graves I saw in Belgium, near Ypres and Poperinge on a trip with Toc-H. Or scenes from films of Scottish battles; the bales are memorials, marking the locations where soldiers fell.


The Commonwealth cemeteries that I visited in Belgium in 1998 were neat and ordered, pristine, spotless and white. Everything that war is not. There was an odd feeling of triumph about them. This is a photo I took of Tyne Cot cemetery

Tyne Cott cemetery in Belgium

The German military cemeteries that I visited had a very different feeling about them. This is a photograph from one that we visited:

German military cemetery in Belgium, shaded beneath trees

Four stone figuresThere was much less a feeling of imperial triumph, more a sense of mournful reflection.

There was a beautiful ‘humanness’ about it. The cemetery was shaded beneath trees, which gave it an organic feel that broke up any sense of order that the rows of gravestones — these were set into the ground — tried to dictate.

At the edge of the graveyard respectfully stood four stone figures, a reminder perhaps that these stones and the hundreds of names inscribed on wooden plaques mark the final resting places of fellow human beings. Not enemies, but brothers.

I remember reading the name of one soldier who was killed on 11 November 1915 — my birthday. That made it more real for me, somehow. And on the Menin Gate in Ypres reading the name “E Saunders” — that could have been my brother.


And for some reason, I’m reminded of that visit to the Ypres Salient in the spring of 1998 each field I pass at this time of year, whose hay bales are marking nothing more than where they were left.

But then maybe it’s appropriate given the number of dead mice that the cats have brought in these last two nights: it was five last night!

Maybe these are battlefields after all.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

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