I had to delay this post a while. Because there are some bad people in the world.
I think I met one of the lesser ones during my dig at Hill 80. It was lunch break and I strolled over to the fence. A shifty looking guy with long grey hair stood there. He had lots of questions. Where were the German trenches? Were we finding casualties? German or British?
I assumed he was a "night hawk" one of those horrid people who sneak into archeological sites in search of things they can add to their collections or to sell on the black market. They literally rob the dead, thinking nothing of disturbing graves for trinkets. (Note: there was both video and human on site security)
I gestured vaguely towards a section of the site that was under three feet of water and told him nothing specific.
The Hill 80 dig is complete now, so the tempting, vulnerable target of mass graves being excavated is now secured. That makes it safe to discuss a sensitive matter. Because at one time true evil walked here.
In the confused fighting of 1914 the Bavarian 6th Reserve Division featured prominently. Many of the dead we could identify as their uniforms had buttons with the Bavarian Lion.
One of those Bavarians was Adolf Hitler.
Did Hitler walk across the field I worked on? Plausibly. Details of the confused 1914 fighting are incomplete but it appears he was at a location called "Bayernwald" about a mile north, then was treated for wounds in the cellar of the church at Mesen, about a mile south of the site. Hill 80 is on a straight line between them and along what at that point would have been still intact roads.
Perhaps the ultimate Alternate History scenario is that of a Time Traveler killing Hitler. Looking at his fallen Bavarian comrades you realize that a time machine would not even have been necessary.
Skeletons laid out in rows. No longer in militant straight lines, time has caused them to lean and shift into ragged formations that would make their sergeants livid were they not likely lying with them in the same shallow grave. Buttons once polished bright for uncompromising inspection are now green with tarnish and lie scattered up and down stark spinal columns. Sightless eyes stare at a blue sky for the first time in a century.
Did any of them know this peculiar Austrian who ranted so much? Perhaps. The more corpses you uncover the more likely you are to find the remains of a man who shared a fox hole or a cigarette or a joke with Adolf Hitler.
If only, if only. Would the world be a less dark place if just a few less British shells were the inert duds we walked over daily? Did any of the fallen Bavarians dislike Hitler enough to aim a rifle at his back during an intense bombardment, only to be thwarted when death came to them instead?
You don't know and you can't know. The path Hitler walked, the dark path that ends in Auschwitz and in the ruins of Berlin, had many twists and turns, many troubled places other than Hill 80.
And what of all those others whose paths did end here? Especially in the 1914 fighting you had Europe's best and brightest, the most passionate, those most ardent to change the world. Could one of those stark corpses staring at the sky have become a German Churchill? A French Mussolini? Or even a British Lenin?
Idle, idle questions, asked by the living who will never know; asked of the dead who will never answer....