If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
--Rupert Brooke "The Soldier"
--Rupert Brooke "The Soldier"
Retreat?? Retreat hell--we just got here!!
--American Marine, Bellau Wood (1918)
In 1914, most of the world went to war. For the first time. As usual, they thought it would be over by Christmas. As usual, they were wrong. Men and boys in almost all countries began training...
They were sent to quiet, out of the way places like Passchendaele...
Some actually survived. Some survivors looked like this...
Private Hugh McWhirter was the first Newfoundlander killed in the First World War...
Private Hugh McWhirter mounted no gallant attack. He uttered no brave last words. He had simply been standing, deafened by the screech and explosion of artillery--a terrified boy in an ill fitting uniform in a front line trench near the ridge of Karakol Dagh. Then, from out of nowhere, he had been blasted...by a Turkish shell. Suddenly he was gone, and those beside him in the shallow firing trench were stunned. Sprayed by bits...they knew just as suddenly what this war was going to be about.
--David Macfarlane, quoted in The First World War, A Complete History, by Martin Gilbert
His father's name was Hugh. His mother's name was Lottie. He was twenty-one.
In 1922, a group of World War veterans celebrated their day...
Except that it was "Armistice Day" then. You see, they thought there would not, could not, be another war. Nobody could have wanted another war after what they had been through. After what they had seen. Nobody, that is, except a newly mustered-out Austrian corporal named Adolph. He decided to get into politics. The "final armistice" lasted all of twenty-one years.
I have mentioned before on Armistice Day that almost nobody thinks of the First World War and its veterans any longer. Both have slipped beneath the tide of onrushing history. As is the natural way. The poem "In Flanders' Fields" is perhaps the most famous of all the great literary efforts of the First World War. When I was young, everyone wore poppies on their clothing on Veteran's Day. Even then, few knew that the poppies symbolized the red of the flowers in Flanders' Fields...
...and that the red of the poppies stood for all the life-lights that were extinguished there.
Do me a favor. If you can find a poppy today, put one on. If you can't, a little scrap of red paper will do. Think of all veterans and ponder what they gave for us, as is proper. But if you look just a bit, I'll bet your town has a monument of sorts or a public list of veterans of the First World War. If you can find your way there, read the names. There probably won't be many. They paved a portion of what unfortunately has been a very long road. One that stretches off into the future. Whether we remember them, or not.
P.S. This is a reworking of my most popular Armistice Day piece. I hope you enjoy it again. ML