In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields
The poppies blow
Between the crosses
Row on row,
That mark our place;
And in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing,
Fly, scarce heard amidst
The guns below.

We are the dead.
Short days ago,
We lived,
Drew breath,
Saw sunset’s glow.
And were loved.
And now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe.
To you, from failing hands,
We throw the torch.
Be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith
With us who die,
We shall not sleep,
Though poppies grow,
In Flanders fields.

If you served and came home safely, thank you for your service.

For those who did not come home, R.I.P. you R not forgotten, this Remembrance Day.

I found this article in today’s Guardian very moving - about those that return but for whom the battles continue.


Speaking of Flanders, and the Somme, and WWI: here’s a comment from a couple of tourists that hit home, while visiting the site of a battlefield in France:

He: I’m surprised there aren’t more visitors here,at such a historic site. Maybe not the general public, but you’d think their children and descendants would come.
She: * they never had any children*

The Western Front was the first war where combat deaths exceeded deaths from camp illness.

2012 was the first year that military suicides exceeded combat deaths.

Progress, of a sort.

In my village in Wales they planted a tree on the hill that overlooks the village, one for every lad that didn’t come back. It’s a nice place for a picnic with soft grass and views of the village and behind you the Berwyns. Seventy-two trees for just a small village.

I wish I could be there today to remember them.

Arthur Mee, compiler of the Children’s Encyclopaedia, also wrote a book about the “Thankful Villages” - English villages fortunate enough to get back alive all the men they sent off to the Great War. In all of England there were about thirty such villages; less than one per county.

If you had to meet a stranger in an English village unknown to both of you, you could almost certainly arrange to meet by the War Memorial in complete confidence that there would be one. Shop, pub or post office - not necessarily, these days (the village where I live has none of these), but there are very few villages that don’t have a Memorial.

Yesterday I heard an interesting Remembrance sermon about Britain’s Unknown Warrior. It completely redefines the expression “full military honours”:

  • the coffin was housed in a casket made of oak from the grounds of Hampton Court palace, on which rested a sword from King George V’s private collection
  • the casket, on its journey home from France, was escorted by a procession, headed by a thousand French schoolchildren, that included a division of French infantry
  • it was guarded overnight by a company that had recently been collectively awarded the Legion d’Honneur
  • the French ship that carried it across the Channel was escorted by six battleships
  • the ship was greeted on arrival at Dover with a 19-gun salute normally reserved for a Field Marshal
  • on being taken into Westminster Abbey it was escorted by a hundred men each of whom had been awarded the Victoria Cross
  • the grave was filled with earth taken from the Western Front battlefields and covered with a slab of Belgian marble with lettering made from shell-cases from the battlefields
  • it is permitted to walk on any other tombstone in Westminster Abbey, but not this one.

Poignantly, the guests of honour at the ceremony were women who had lost their husbands and all their sons in the War. There were about a hundred of these (any woman who met the tragic qualification criteria could apply, and all applicants were accepted).

The older I get the more sentimental I become… <sigh>… (found this…)

Reflection for Holidays of Mourning:

Let us reflect.

We are thankful for the fate that has allowed us to arrive
together at this solemn day,
and for our ancestors who sacrificed that we, their offspring, could live on.

On this day,
we remember a great tragedy,
and commit ourselves to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.

The dead lie still now,
Not seeing,
Not hearing,
Not feeling,
Not moving,
Not in pain.
They are no more.

Yet we remember, and their memory still moves our hearts.
We remember their lives and their sacrifice.
Through our actions in their name, they may still make a difference in this world.

Today we thank them.
Today we honor them.
We promise to never forget.

There’s a post WWI poem, written by Billy Rose(also known for the song Me and My Shadow) that I like. It speaks to the sadness and futility of war, but the valor of those who fought. It’s titled “The Unknown Soldier”

The Unknown Soldier

There’s a graveyard near the White House
Where the Unknown Soldier lies,
And the flowers there are sprinkled
With the tears from mother’s eyes.

I stood there not so long ago
With roses for the brave,
And suddenly I heard a voice
Speak from out the grave:

"I am the Unknown Soldier,
The spirit voice began
"And I think I have the right
To ask some questions man to man.

"Are my buddies taken care of?
Was their victory so sweet?
Is that big reward you offered
Selling pencils on the street?

"Did they really win the freedom
They battled to achieve?
Do you still respect that Croix de Guerre
Above that empty sleeve?
"Does a gold star in the window
Now mean anything at all?
I wonder how my old girl feels
When she hears a bugle call.

"And that baby who sang
Hello, Central, give me no man’s land.
Can they replace her daddy
Can they replace her daddy
With a military band?

"I wonder if the profiteers
Have satisfied their greed?
I wonder if a soldier’s mother
Ever is in need?

"I wonder if the kings, who planned it all
Are really satisfied?
They played their game of checkers
And eleven million died.

"I am the Unknown Soldier
And maybe I died in vain,
But if I were alive and my country called,
I’d do it all over again.

Written by Billy Rose

The Soldier
Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

The Soldier
Rupert Brooke

The sentiment when I and my fellows came home from our war was more like this*. I’m still often reluctant to tell people I’m a Viet Nam vet.

I always read this on today’s date. tears me up it does.

NSFW (Tears)

The Final Salute.

That’s got to be one of the hardest jobs in the world.

About the family always knowing, I read an account of a woman whose husband, a navy pilot, died in a training accident. She said, when she opened the door and her priest was standing there(this was in the early 1960’s) she knew. She asked “Is this an official visit Father?” “Yes, it is” “He’s not just hurt then” “No, he’s really gone”

I’d hate to have to be the one who tells the family.

*Stay with me, God. The night is dark,
The night is cold: my little spark
Of courage dies. The night is long;
Be with me, God, and make me strong.

I love a game; I love a fight.
I hate the dark; I love the light.
I love my child; I love my wife.
I am no coward. I love Life,

Life with its change of mood and shade.
I want to live. I’m not afraid,
But me and mine are hard to part;
Oh, unknown God, lift up my heart.

You stilled the waters at Dunkirk
And saved Your Servants. All Your work
Is wonderful, dear God. You strode
Before us down that dreadful road.

We were alone, and hope had fled;
We loved our country and our dead,
And could not shame them; so we stayed
The course, and were not much afraid.

Dear God that nightmare road! And then
That sea! We got there-we were men.
My eyes were blind, my feet were torn,
My soul sang like a bird at dawn!

I knew that death is but a door.
I knew what we were fighting for:
Peace for the kids, our brothers freed,
A kinder world, a cleaner breed.

I’m but the son my mother bore,
A simple man, and nothing more.
But-God of strength and gentleness,
Be pleased to make me nothing less.

Help me, O God, when Death is near
To mock the haggard face of fear,
That when I fall-if fall I must-
My soul may triumph in the Dust.*

To the memory of Carlos Wilcox.


For another perspective on this memorial holiday, I’m currently reading Dreadnought, a detailed history of political tensions leading up to the Great War.

In another book, statistician and self-described “atrocitologist” Matthew White, reflected that the Great War led directly to the Second World War, and that the two wars also gave rise to the Soviet state and Communist China, with their attendant loss of life, called the entire sequence of events the Hemoclysm, the worst shedding of blood in all human history.

With the benefit of hindsight, reading Dreadnought fills me with a sort of sick helplessness as I watch the principals argue about “national honor” involving minor and arcane division of colonial spoils, insult each other (sometimes accidentally), and haplessly edge closer and closer to the Hemoclysm, all the while so self-assured that they are in control and know what they’re doing.

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today

Kohima War Cemetery

This went around the internets a couple of days ago:

BBC News report:

Thanks, Northern Piper. That’s an old familiar poem.

For Memorial Day this year I read The Things They Could not Say by Kevin Sites.

I like one of the comments on buzzfeed: