The letter I was reading was nearly 100 years old and was from a wife to her husband, an English soldier in the First World War. It was behind a glass case containing many other letters between soldiers and their famililes.
All the panels containing letters and personal effects were lit from within and provided the only light in the darkened room. Through a speaker a young girls voice quietly listed the names and ages of the dead soldiers, relentlessly and endlessly.
The letter ended with the wife saying how much she loved him and missed him and hoped he would come home safely. I counted eight kisses at the bottom of the letter.
He never got back to England, he was buried just outside among the rows and rows of pristine white headstones on Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. The cemetery is filled with British and New Zealand soldiers who had died during the unimaginable slaughter of the Battle of Passchendale in 1917, there was a small museum annexing the graveyard and the rear wall of the cemetery was carved with the names of the 35,000 Commonwealth troops that had died during that battle.
They were buried on the low hill overlooking flat farmland that they had died for, a lump of ground considered strategic enough to send them all to their deaths.
The countryside in this area of Belgium is filled with graveyards containing the dead of the two World Wars. They are kept in immaculate condition by the Commonwealth War Graves Commision. My own grandfather, Gordon Porch lies in a small graveyard in Tunisia, he was killed in North Africa in World War 2, inside the museum you can bring up his details and pictures of his grave on a computer.
In the nearby town of Ypres there is an enormous stone arch stretching across the road into the town square called the Menin Gate. The Gate is inscribed with the names of the 57,000 men whose bodies were never identified.
It was through this town that Commonwealth soldiers passed on their way to the frontlines and now, every night at 20:00 the town stops and a crowd gathers beneath the Gate.
The Last Post is played by four buglers, a wreath is laid, a poem is spoken and the buglers then play Reveille. Then town resumes it's business as usual. This has happened every night since 1928 apart from during the Second World War for obvious reasons.
When I witnessed this there was a large crowd, coach loads of European school children arrived and stood watching in silence as the ceremony was played out.
The UK was never invaded during the World Wars and I know some people in my country that have never even heard of these wars. But Europe suffered terribly during both and they have not forgotten.
I once visited a town in Northern France called Oradour. During the Second World War a high ranking German officer was killed near there by the French Resistance and the Germans suspected they had assistance from the people of Oradour.
They sent a squad of SS soldiers, fresh from the brutal conflict of the Russian Eastern Front to make an example.
They wiped out everyone in the town they came across and set fire to the whole place.
The French have left the town as it was after the carnage, bodies removed obviously. There are rusting hulks of cars and trucks in the cobbled streets, the remains of sewing machines and cooking pans in the kitchens. the personal effects of the townspeople are in a small museum nearby.
The Europeans have not forgotten what happened and they are right to do so , the cost of these conflicts is brought sharply into focus when you are faced with the physical reality of the aftermath. The lessons of history are there to be learned and have not being bulldozed to make way for profit.
Seeing these things was a humbling and emotional experience that I will never forget and also unexpected as I had only gone to Belgium to watch the Graspop Heavy Metal Festival.