November 11

In Flanders Fields

20  comments

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John McCrae, M.D. (1872-1918)
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, WWI, The Great War, the war to end all wars, was formally ended with the German signing of the Armistice. We commemorate this day – formerly called Armistice Day – each November 11.
No one who wasn’t there or who isn’t a student of WWI can possible imagine the carnage, the vast populations of young English, German, French, Canadian, Australian and American males who perished in a conflict many feel was bungled by the generals on all sides. All who survived it couldn’t imagine there ever being another war like it. Little did they know.
After a horrific battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915, a Canadian army physician named John McCrae buried one of his friends who had been blown to pieces by an artillery blast. The next day sitting on the back of an ambulance, watching a gentle breeze rustle the poppies that had sprung up in the battlefield, Dr. McCrae penned the poem below, which has become the most memorable poem from that brutal war.
Lt. Col. McRae was himself to die from pneumonia before the war’s end.

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.



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Armistice_Day_London_1919

Two minutes of silence. Armistice Day, London 1919


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  1. May I point you at some amateur readings of In Flanders Fields at the Librivox project? It was a very early one for us there — back when I was active enough to call the project “us” and in fact, one of the readings is my first reading for Librivox, as I recall… anyhow, something you and/or your readers might enjoy on this day.
    http://librivox.org/in-flanders-fields-by-john-mccrae/
    (For what it’s worth, the Randomdad reading is me — they weren’t clear on my name yet.)
    Random
    Hey Random–
    Thanks for the link to the reading. I enjoyed it.
    Best–
    MRE

  2. Hi Mike,
    While I’m sure your list of countries from which the war dead came in WW1 wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, another thing about the impact of this conflict is hard to comprehend. More than 60,000 Australians died (more than half the total number of American casualties) out of a population (then) of about 5 million (USA approx 100 million). And yes, as I think we might have discussed before, Australia supposedly ‘came of age’ in a pointless (is there any other kind?) massacre brought about by the (British) generals directing the Australian and New Zealand forces to the wrong beach to attack the Turks at a place called Gallipoli in 1915.
    As we say here every 11th of November (again it would appear pointlessly);
    “Lest we forget”
    Regards,
    Malcolm
    Hi Malcolm–
    Sorry for my omission. I’ve amended the error.
    Best–
    MRE

  3. Hi Dr Mike,
    I must add my comments to your post. One of the things that strikes any visitor to Australia is the fact that every single town in the country has a WWI memorial. 65,000 Australians perished in that conflict out of 422,000 who served, the highest proportion of any country on the Western front. We fought in the worst disasters of the war, for example Galipoli and also in Passchendaele (35,000 Aussies lost).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Front_%28World_War_I%29
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Passchendaele
    The commander of the ANZACS was Sir John Monash. Montomgery said: “I would name Sir John Monash as the best general on the western front in Europe”. He was the first soldier to be knighted by the King on the battlefield in 200 years. And, yes, he was a Jew.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Monash
    Oh, and he also introduced steel-reinforced concrete to Australia, for he was not by trade a soldier but a civil engineer.
    In the ’80s the French Government awarded every surviving Aussie WWI soldier on the Western Front the Legion d’honeur, so great was the debt France owed Australia.
    And the Great War is still part of the national consciousness. On ANZAC day we never celebrate victory over our enemies, nor the glory of war: instead we remember the sacrifice of those who paid the supreme price so that we who came after can be free.
    And for me, the great poem of WWI is Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen:
    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Strange_Meeting
    It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
    Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
    Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
    Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
    Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
    Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
    With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
    Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
    And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,-
    By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
    ……..
    “I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
    I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
    Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
    I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
    Let us sleep now . . .”
    Those words (which my generation of Australians all had to read at school) were also memorably set to haunting music by Benjamin Britten in his War Requiem. The composer’s own recording is best:
    http://www.amazon.com/Britten-War-Requiem-Dietrich-Fischer-Dieskau/dp/B000E6EGXM/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-7813615-2274229?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1194817323&sr=8-1
    What makes the recording so moving is that those words are sung by Peter Pears (English) and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (German).
    All the Best,
    Michael Richards
    Hi Michael–
    Thanks for the links and the recommendation of the Britten War Requiem. I’ve now got it on order.
    And I’ve added Australia to the post. Given their sacrifice I can’t believe I left them off the original post.
    Best–
    MRE

  4. I think every school child in Canada knows this poem by heart. especially true in my hometown where John Mccrae was from. i often go past his old house when i go jogging. very cool that you’ve picked him to honour for remembrance day.
    Hi UofT Chem–
    I loved his poem since the first time I read it. I’m glad I thought to put it up today.
    Best–
    MRE

  5. In 1982 I toured Edinburgh Castle and the guide was a veteran of WW 1. He was elderly, yet the War was utterly fresh to him. Many of his friends had not survived.
    With real sadness, he shared that Scotland was never the same after the war, as so many of their young men were slaughtered. Many Scottish women would never marry or conceive, and society became older and less vibrant vis-a-vis the rest of the Empire. (Especially compared to England, which suffered notably lower casualties by percentage. Found this on the web:)
    World War 1 – 27% of the Scots that fought were killed as opposed to the 12% total for the UK as a whole. 110,000 Scots dead in WWI, 15% of the total British war dead, higher in proportionate terms than for any other country in the Empire. And, of course, of those dead, 13 out of 14 were privates and NCOs from the working class: not enough is done to remind people today of the 1930s definition of a bayonet as ‘a weapon with a worker at each end.’

  6. Thank you. I am a Veteran that received US Citizenship while serving in uniform for my new country. My Father fought for the British during WWII, as did many of his fellow Rhodesians.
    In WWII, some 6650 white and 1730 black Rhodesians served outside Rhodesia in North Africa, Sicily, Normandy and Burma. A total of nearly 11000 white and mixed race personnel of whom 1500 were women, actually went into uniform, as did 15000 black Rhodesian troops.
    Rhodesia supplied more troops per head of population to the allied war effort than any other country in the empire. One in ten of the 8500 Rhodesians of all races who served overseas were killed or died on active service.
    If Rhodesia were alive today, you can bet we would be fighting right alongside American soldiers and Marines.
    It was in the mud of the Somme and Flanders and on the barbed wire and machine guns of the German lines that Rhodesia’s sunshine settlers, in company with the whole European race, finally lost their innocence in WWI.
    Over 6000 white Rhodesians ‘played the game’ and went to war in Europe, East Africa and South West Africa. This represented two-thirds of all European men between the ages of 15 and 44, and a quarter of the total white population of the country. Some 2800 men of African and mixed race, most of them in the Rhodesia Native Regiment, also went to war. 900 were killed.
    Thank you for your post, Dr. Mike, and thanks to the others for bringing to attention the efforts and sacrifice of Australia – an American ally in EVERY war since WWI. Hard men from a hard country.
    God Bless our countries, and the parents that produce these young men and women that decide to give themselves to service. Because it is a privilege to serve your country, not a right.
    Please watch this, and share:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYlrrAWCTRg
    Gladly.
    Thanks for sending.
    MRE

  7. For the fallen –
    They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
    Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
    They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
    They fell with their faces to the foe.
    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
    We will remember them…
    “Lest we forget…”
    ________________________
    (from Laurence Binyon’s “Ode of Remembrance”; to this day Returned Servicemen’s clubs in Australia will dim the lights and recite this at 9pm – sharp – every night)

  8. Thanks for this post Dr. Mike. I served in the military during the Vietnam “era” but lucky for me not in Vietnam per se. So I think those of us who have experienced military service (and the families of those who have), appreciate the sacrifices of others who have served, especially during war time; and I think much more so than those who have never served. In today’s world, and in my profession, it seems as if almost no one in my work place below say the age of 45 has ever been in the military (it’s just not part of a sensible and presumably lucrative career plan I suppose) and accordingly they don’t have the same level of respect or even compassion for those who have served or are serving. Quite a shame, really, and although I’m not really in favor of bringing the draft back I think maybe this does suggest that our country should consider some kind of mandatory service requirement for all able-bodied citizens for a year or two, not necessarily military.
    But on another topic, how the heck do we link to Amazon.com from your website? We want to order some stuff, but can’t figure out how to link or click through from yours to Amazon so you can get a few pennies of credit. You’re doing a lot for us – we’d like to reciprocate.
    Best,
    Wil
    Hi Wil–
    I agree with your sentiments about those who have served.
    You can order by clicking on one of the book icons on the right side of the blog. Any one of them will take you to Amazon, then any order you make will end up providing a few cents that go toward maintaining the blog. Thanks very much in advance.
    Best–
    MRE

  9. Thanks for posting In Flanders Fields, Dr Mike.
    I served in the Navy back in the early 1980’s and have fond memories of “Remembrance Day”. It’s more like our Memorial Day but it doesn’t revolve around a few token ceremonies and sales at the mall. The local chapter of the Royal British Legion Scotland would host a dinner for the “Yanks” and there were solemn ceremonies and parades. Red poppies everywhere! Sometimes I fear we Americans spend so much time looking forward, we forget our past.
    Indeed we do. And it’s a sad thing.
    Thanks for writing.
    MRE

  10. Hi Mike
    Excellent poem and great reminder; here’s a poem I discovered after my daughter did a piece on it. The guy was a dedicated WWI soldier who didn’t hold back on his feelings towards ‘staff officers’ who never braved the fighting:
    If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
    I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
    And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
    You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
    Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
    Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young chap,’
    I’d say—‘I used to know his father well.
    Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
    And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
    I’d toddle safely home and die — in bed.
    – Siegfried Sassoon
    ‘Sassoon’s bravery was inspiring to the extent that soldiers of his company said that they felt confident only when they were accompanied by him.[9] He often went out on night-raids and bombing patrols and demonstrated ruthless efficiency as a company commander. Deepening depression at the horror and misery the soldiers were forced to endure produced in Sassoon a paradoxically manic courage, and he was nicknamed “Mad Jack” by his men for his near-suicidal exploits. On 27 July 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross.’
    Ivor

    1. Hey Ivor,
      Thanks for the SS poem. I hadn’t seen that one. Given how the brass fared in WWI vs the foot soldier, it’s pretty poignant.

  11. Bless you, Dr. Mike, for this thoughtful post.
    My father, a Texas boy, served in the U.S. Navy on a mine-sweeper in the North Sea during World War I . He was so very proud of his service and of his country.
    Your tribute brought me great joy. Many thanks.

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