Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Enigma of Arrival (2)

'The Enigma of Arrival' by Giorgio di Chirico
The title of the painting by Giorgio di Chirico,  'The Enigma of Arrival' was chosen not by the painter but by the French poet Apollinaire. I once followed the path of Apollinaire to northern France, to the Western Front battlefield where he received the head wound that led to his eventual death a few years later.  I was following a trail that started with a quest for the origins of the UK Forestry Commission on those same battlefields. There was a shortage of wood for the trenches that threatened the Allied war effort. Unbelievably - well, perhaps only too believably - , French forest owners charged the British army a premium to cut down the trees needed to shore up the miles of tunnels and trenches, latrines and field stations that dotted the landscape. The man charged with securing the timber was Simon 'Shimi' (Lord) Lovat, who knew most of the landowners from his pre-war forays to the gambling tables of Biarritz.It was the young firm of MacAlpine brothers that got the contract to build the wooden sheds for the British army at Etaples in Normandy, site it is now thought of the 'vector' between pigs, poultry and men that caused the virus known as the 'Spanish flu' that killed more young men worldwide than the war itself. Apollinaire was much loved, unusually for a genius.

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