There is a moving history lesson on display for commuters rolling along the travelator in the Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station at the moment – until 31 August. The folding “comic strip” artwork created by Joe Sacco depicting the story of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916, has been blown up into a 132- metre long wall-sized poster story.
It’s impressive; it would be enough to stop you in your tracks if the moving carpet would allow. I went back to the start, this time walking on the solid tiled floor to take my time looking and reading. In the poster version the scenes are captioned in French below the pictures, with German and English translations above. The drawings are so cleverly detailed; it’s the minutiae of each scene that brings out the tragic horror of the battle; thousands of soldier figures waiting, sleeping standing up, walking, marching, falling, wounded, dead. Stark facts reinforce the enormity; thirty thousand troops lost in the first hour of the battle, knocked down like skittles. Handsome, young human skittles.
Well worth a visit, or detour through Montparnasse metro station to see the mural.
Speaking of falling like skittles; the Tour de France has been rolling through the countryside in which the World War One battles took place. You might have seen television coverage of the fields and fields of white crosses, or of fields of blue flowers, the blue cornflowers, called Bleuet de France. The cornflowers grew in the battle riddled fields as did the red poppies, and like New Zealand and Australia (and other Commonwealth countries) have adopted the poppy as the symbol of remembrance for those who served their country in war, the Bleuet is the symbol adopted by France. The French soldiers were also called the Bleuets because of the pale blue colour of their (new) uniforms. Germany adopted the Forget-me-not flower (Vergissmeinnicht) as its symbol of remembrance.