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Tag: World War I

The 11 th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

Saturday, 11 November, 2017 0 Comments

It’s Armistice Day. The event is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the truce signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne in France for the cessation of hostilities. The agreement took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning — the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. More than nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a result of the First World War.

Lieutenant Robert Martin O'Dwyer Today, we remember the World War I dead of Ballylanders, Co. Limerick: Sergeant John Brazil, Lieutenant Robert Martyn O’Dwyer and his brother Rifleman Peter O’Dwyer. Their bodies were interred in places as far apart as Pas de Calais in France and the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. May they rest in peace.

“The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” — Czesław Miłosz


Late June poem

Wednesday, 28 June, 2017 0 Comments

On 24 June 1914, a steam train carrying an unknown English poet made an unscheduled stop at a village station called Adlestrop in Gloucestershire. The obscure poet was Edward Thomas and he immortalized his glimpse that day of “willows, willow-herb, and grass / And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry” in Adlestrop. The train moved on and a year later Edward Thomas enlisted in the Artists Rifles regiment. He was killed in action soon after he arrived in France at Arras on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917.

Adlestrop

Yes. I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917)


Heart of my heart, our heaven is now

Sunday, 23 April, 2017 0 Comments

The English poet Rupert Brooke died of sepsis on this day (St. George’s Day) in 1915 on a French hospital ship off the Greek island of Skyros, while preparing for the landing at Gallipoli. He was 27. His brother, William Brooke, a member of the London Regiment, was killed in action near Le Rutoire Farm on 14 June 1915. He was 24.

Rupert Brooke was famous for his good looks, which prompted the poet W. B. Yeats to describe him as “the handsomest young man in England”, and he had a large circle of powerful friends, including Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill. He lived his short life with passion: poet, scholar, dramatist, critic, traveller, activist, soldier. He is best known for his sonnets written during the First World War, especially The Soldier.

The Hill, a meditation on fate, contains some of the great lines of modern English poetry: “We have kept the faith!” and “We shall go down with unreluctant tread / Rose-crowned into the darkness!”

The Hill

Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill,
Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.
You said, “Through glory and ecstasy we pass;
Wind, sun, and earth remain, the birds sing still,
When we are old, are old.…” “And when we die
All’s over that is ours; and life burns on
Through other lovers, other lips,” said I,
— “Heart of my heart, our heaven is now, is won!”

“We are Earth’s best, that learnt her lesson here.
Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!” we said;
“We shall go down with unreluctant tread
Rose-crowned into the darkness!”… Proud we were,
And laughed, that had such brave true things to say.
— And then you suddenly cried, and turned away.

Rupert Brooke (1887 – 1915)

The Blue Galtees


In Flanders Fields

Friday, 11 November, 2016 0 Comments

During the Second Battle of Ypres, a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2 May 1915 by a German artillery shell that landed near his position. The Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae conducted the burial service and it is believed that he began to write the poem In Flanders Fields later that evening.

poppy Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November in many countries to recall the end of hostilities of World War I on that date in 1918. Fighting formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”. Inspired by Major McCrae’s poem, the custom of wearing a remembrance poppy at the “eleventh hour” to commemorate military personnel who have died in all wars began. It continues to this day.

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 amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved 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.

Major John McCrae (1872 – 1918)

Losses during the Second Battle of Ypres are estimated at 69,000 Allied troops, against 35,000 German, the difference in numbers being explained by the Germans’ innovative use of chlorine gas.


Never such innocence, Never before or since.

Tuesday, 11 November, 2014 0 Comments

At the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, an armistice was signed by the Allies and Germany for the ending of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I. Hence, today, 11 November, is known to many as Armistice Day or Veterans Day in commemoration of what took place on 11 November 1918 at Compiègne in France.

Fifty years after the start of that terrible conflict, Philip Larkin looked back more in anguish than in anger at the optimism of the young men queuing up to enlist in 1914. Written in 1964, MCMXIV reflects on the heart-breaking idea that the war would be like “an August Bank Holiday lark” for those heading towards the front.

MCMXIV

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word — the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Phillip Larkin (1922 — 1985)


The war horse

Sunday, 26 January, 2014 0 Comments
The war horse

Some one million horses, mules and donkeys were sent to the Western Front to assist the British Army in World War I and served in squadrons such as the Northumberland Hussars and the Warwickshire Horse Artillery, where they pulled heavy guns, transported supplies, carried the wounded and dying to hospital and took part in cavalry […]

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What if Britain had stayed out?

Friday, 24 January, 2014 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by R.J.W. Evans in “The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Seen.” His engaging tour d’horizon of the latest World War I books includes belated recognition for Le origini della guerra del 1914 (“The Origins of the War of 1914”) by the Italian politician and journalist Luigi Albertini, which was published in 1942–1943. As Evans notes: “Silenced by the Fascist regime, Albertini immersed himself in all the sources, and added more of his own by arranging interviews with survivors. That lent an immediacy to his wonderfully nuanced presentation of the individuals who actually made (or ducked) the fateful decisions.”

The fateful decisions taken in London were “entrusted to the tentative grasp of the country squire Sir Edward Grey”, who “wobbled both before and after Berlin’s foolhardy démarche, and was determined at least as much by parliamentary frictions and civil disturbance at home.” This “disturbance” included “the ferocious clashes over Ireland’s home-rule legislation.” Grey, does not emerge well from the books reviewed by Evans, but like many of the other players in this drama he was unprepared for what was coming in July 1914. “Communing with nature on his country estate, for he passionately preferred live birds (he was an acknowledged expert in their observation) to the feathers on an archduke’s hat, he had already reached the conclusion that ‘if war breaks out, it will be the greatest catastrophe the world has ever seen.'” And it was.

The Survivors

No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’ —
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died, —
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride…
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.

Siegfried Sassoon

1914 — 2014: Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, compared the leadership of China to the German monarchy of Wilhelm II ahead of the First World War. Beijing Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang responded by calling the Japanese World War II criminals commemorated at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo “Nazis in the East.”