Some time ago, I took photos at Mont-Huon for a friend. I wrote this to accompany the photos.
Mont-Huon is at the edge of the world, the place where your drive across continents from the far side of Asia ends in the white cliffs sliced by a giant’s sword from the chalk. It is as stone-still as it has been for centuries, unless there’s a farmer trawling his tiny growling tractor across the huge fields which curl over the horizon.
Stand at the gate. Look. To your left, the rough ridge of the chalky lump of cliffs and a sea-traced line dividing the pale blue into sky and water. To your right, a sculptural water tower and a stumpy copse of bristling trees concealing a smallholding. Ahead of you, through the iron gate, two thousand men and a few women from the three hospitals at Le Tréport, people who made it thus far towards England and no further.
You can hear a lark beading the sky with liquid crystal notes. You can hear the shushing and pulling of the waves tearing the pebble beach to shingle. You can hear the gulls wailing overhead.
The only movement is the gardener scratching at the daffodil clumps with his hoe.
He greets you quietly. Bonjour, m’sieur’dame.
And returns to his gentle scraping hoeing.
The Cemetery Registers tell you that by July 1916, there were three General Hospitals in Le Tréport; the main military cemetery filled up rapidly and the new burial place at Mont-Huon was selected. It is just over the fields from a hospital site. You can stand on the cliff top above Le Tréport and look across at the original cemetery: row on precise row of perfect white teeth among the chaotic jumble of the darkly ornate French cemetery which seems to be sliding and tumbling down the hillside threatening to engulf the careful rows of British soldiers.
You can turn away from the buzz of the town going about its daily seaside life in the seafood restaurants and the fishing harbour and look out at the timeless changing sea in the wafting breeze and try to think the thoughts of the men who painfully knew that these cliffs were their last stop before the boat to Britain.