Kiwi sets off to walk battlefields of Europe

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Sculptor David Guerin set off this week on an odyssey to walk the 800-kilometre length of the Western Front.

Guerin, of Havelock North, has been hooked on the history of the two wars that ravaged Europe from 1914-18 and 1939-45 since he found a 50-volume set about them in his intermediate school library decades ago.

"I just read and read and read them."

Since then he has built up a library of hundreds of books and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the battles of both wars and the years in between.

It is an interest he admits has become an obsession, and one that others do not always relate to.

"In New Zealand it's regarded as dusty history, but in Britain this is still live history. Hundreds of thousands still go to the Somme to see where their grandfathers got the chop," he said.


His fascination with the wars extends to the period between them.

"Some people say World War I and World War II were really one war. They just took a breather to breed more cannon fodder."

Guerin, a master of fine arts, has worked for 15 years as an artist "with a massive lack of commercial acclaim", but was good enough to help build Peter Jackson's "castle" near Masterton, and Lord of the Rings sets.

Now he has decided it is time to experience the European battlefields firsthand.

As the 90th anniversary approaches next Friday of the final German offensive, known as Kaiserschlacht, he plans to walk the length of the Western Front, starting at Nieuport in France and ending "somewhere near Strasbourg" on the Swiss and German borders.

From Amiens he plans to walk the 60-kilometre Circuit de Souvenir around a series of battlefields - including the Somme, "where a lot of New Zealanders fought in their first pitched battle".

Equipped with a pack, tent, sleeping bag and an air mattress, he plans to do the trip in three months, sleeping on roadsides where necessary, but hoping for local contact that will allow him to share or glean information with the aid of his fourth-form French.

Along the way, he wants to research a Madam Guerin, reputed to have made artificial poppies for French children at the end of World War I.


The Dominion Post