St Mihiel American Cemetery

The area of north eastern France we journeyed through on the few few days of our European road trip is battlefield country. A lot of fighting took place during various wars in that part of Europe, none more so (I believe) than in the First World War. As we drove through the countryside (avoiding the toll motorways to see more of rural France) we kept on passing war cemeteries featuring countless graves of the fallen. Most of these were French cemeteries, each grave marked with what appeared to be a simple wooden cross. After we’d passed several, I decided that the next one we saw I’d pull over at to take a look around.

As it happened, the next war cemetery we came across was American. America is not a country known for doing things by halves, so every grave was marble, the gardens immaculate. Fittingly, as we arrived it began to rain.

1/500sec, f/4, ISO 125, 75mm
1/500sec, f/4, ISO 125, 75mm

You can just about see the white drops of rain in the image.

At the centre of the cemetery was a large eagle-based sundial. Behind it – at the back of the cemetery –  is a chapel overlooking the countryside, proudly flying the American flag.

1/160sec, f/9, ISO 125, 28mm
1/160sec, f/9, ISO 125, 28mm

Branching out from the eagle to the left and right were two other pathways, each with a sculpture at the far end.

1/100sec, f/9, ISO 125, 24mm
1/100sec, f/9, ISO 125, 24mm
1/400sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm
1/400sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm

The sheer amount of gravestones here was staggering. It’s really hard to comprehend how many lost lives you are seeing at any one time.

1/200sec, f/9, ISO 250, 24mm
1/200sec, f/9, ISO 250, 24mm

Every grave carries a name. Seeing a name somehow makes it more real.

1/1000sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm
1/1000sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm

Having found this particular angle, I took several shots and processed them in a few different ways.

1/640sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm
1/640sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm
1/640sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm
1/640sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm

This can all pretty much only be described as too much death.

1/800sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm
1/800sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm

Way too much.

1/800sec, f/4, ISO 100, 96mm
1/800sec, f/4, ISO 100, 96mm

The chapel space at one end of the cemetery proudly flew the American flag. Flags can so often come across as jingoistic but in places like this it just adds to the sombreness.

1/2000sec, f/4, ISO 100, 47mm
1/2000sec, f/4, ISO 100, 47mm

The close up shots are one thing, but it is the wider shots that take in many, many crosses that are the more powerful.

1/200sec, f/4, ISO 100, 58mm
1/200sec, f/4, ISO 100, 58mm

It was a grey, overcast day when we visited, but once in a while the sun would come out. When it did, I liked the effect of the shadows of the crosses on the grass.

1/1000sec, f/4, ISO 100, 58mm
1/1000sec, f/4, ISO 100, 58mm

It also works quite well in higher contrast monochrome.

1/800sec, f/4, ISO 100, 60mm
1/800sec, f/4, ISO 100, 60mm

And indeed, after the sun went back in again the shading was strong enough to look interesting.

1/400sec, f/4, ISO 100, 50mm
1/400sec, f/4, ISO 100, 50mm

As we were walking around, a bunny came running through the graves. I tried, and failed, to grab a shot of him but managed to luckily get some decent shots as I tried.

1/500sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm
1/500sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm

As we walked back towards the entrance, I continued to get some perspective shots of the crosses.

1/250sec, f/4, ISO 100, 73mm
1/250sec, f/4, ISO 100, 73mm
f/10, ISO 400, 50mm (HDR)
f/10, ISO 400, 50mm (HDR)

The final few images I took were more wider shots, showing the sheer scale of the place.

1/4000sec, f/4, ISO 400, 105mm
1/4000sec, f/4, ISO 400, 105mm
1/5000sec, f/4, ISO 400, 24mm
1/5000sec, f/4, ISO 400, 24mm
f/4, ISO 400, 24mm (HDR)
f/4, ISO 400, 24mm (HDR)
1/5000sec, f/4, ISO 400, 105mm
1/5000sec, f/4, ISO 400, 105mm

According to the American Battle Monuments Commission, the remains of 4,153 identified soldiers are interred at St Mihiel. 4,153. 4,153 lives lost thanks to humanity’s inherent disability to get on with each other.

War, eh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.


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Related Posts:

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Verdun

2 Comments

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  1. Hauntingly peaceful. 🙂

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