Showing posts with label Veteran's Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Veteran's Day. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

November 11: Remembrance Day/Veteran's Day

November 11 is Veteran's Day in the USA, Remembrance Day in Canada and Armistice Day in the UK. In many other parts of the world, this date commemorates those who lost their lives in wars, particularly the first and second world wars (1914-18; 1939-45).  There is a slight difference between countries in what the focus is on this date: for Americans, whose solemn day for remembering war dead is Memorial Day in May, November 11 is a day to celebrate and thank veterans, past and present, for their service to their country.

Canadians and other British Commonwealth countries, as well as many other European nations, today's date is one of somber remembrance of the war dead. November 11, 1918 was when the Armistice that ended WWI was signed and in many of these countries, a moment of silence is observed at 11:11AM on November 11 (11/11) each year.

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.

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

This famous poem, a recital standard of many a middle school assembly, has an interesting backstory:

John McCrae was a poet and physician from Guelph, Ontario. He developed an interest in poetry at a young age and wrote throughout his life. His earliest works were published in the mid 1890s in Canadian magazines and newspapers. McCrae's poetry often focused on death and the peace that followed.

At the age of 41, McCrae enrolled with the Canadian Expeditionary Force following the outbreak of the First World War. He had the option of joining the medical corps due to his training and age, but volunteered instead to join a fighting unit as a gunner and medical officer. It was his second tour of duty in the Canadian military. He previously fought with a volunteer force in the Second Boer War. He considered himself a soldier first; his father was a military leader in Guelph and McCrae grew up believing in the duty of fighting for his country and empire.

McCrae fought in the second battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium where the German army launched one of the first chemical attacks in the history of war. They attacked the Canadian position with chlorine gas on April 22, 1915, but were unable to break through the Canadian line which held for over two weeks. In a letter written to his mother, McCrae described the battle as a "nightmare": "For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds ..... And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way." Alexis Helmer, a close friend, was killed during the battle on May 2. McCrae performed the burial service himself, at which time he noted how poppies quickly grew around the graves of those who died at Ypres. The next day, he composed the poem while sitting in the back of an ambulance...

McCrae was moved to the medical corps and stationed in Boulogne, France, in June 1915 where he was named lieutenant-colonel in charge of medicine at the Number 3 Canadian General Hospital. He was promoted to the acting rank of Colonel on January 13, 1918, and named Consulting Physician to the British Armies in France. The years of war had worn McCrae down, however. He contracted pneumonia that same day, and later came down with cerebral meningitis. On January 28, he died at the military hospital in Wimereux and was buried there with full military honours. (wikipedia)

Please remember to thank a veteran for their service!

Monday, November 11, 2013

On The Eleventh Day Of the Eleventh Month...

... at the eleventh hour, we will remember.

The Great War - as it was known until the second great war made a mockery of the phrase "Never Again" - dealt a wound to the collective human psyche which can still be felt today. Through stories passed down within families, through questions children ask as they pass poppy-festooned war memorials, through music, poetry and literature composed by people who had survived that time and who sought to process the senselessness and horror of it all, the human toll of that first truly worldwide conflict is remembered today.

In my own hometown, there is a statue of a caribou which was erected in a beautiful park to memorialize the generation of young men who had fallen at Beaumont Hamel on the first day of the devastating Battle of the Somme. Allied forces lost thousands of men during the horrific months-long Somme offensive. The battle was the inspiration for John McCrae's famous poem, "In Flanders Fields". Lesser known, except in Newfoundland, is that the tiny Newfoundland Infantry division of 780 men was among the first ordered over the side on the morning of July 1. 1916, launching the battle to open up the western front. Within hours, only 110 of the Blue Puttees, as they were known, were alive and of those, only 68 were able to stand for roll call the next morning. The loss of more than 500 young men from the tiny population of Newfoundland was a wound so deep that it underlines all war memorial services in Newfoundland to this day.

There are only five of the bronze caribou statues memorializing the fallen on that day; four of them are in France and Belgium and the fifth is in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Even less well-known, even by Newfoundlanders, is that before being sent to France to await orders as the strategy to open up a western front was pursued by the Allies, the Newfoundland regiment had been fighting at another infamous battlefield - Gallipoli. The Newfoundland regiment had actually been shipped out to Suvla Bay via Egypt in the early years of the war.

For today's Monday Music, I'd like to present a beautiful, moving and haunting song which describes the horror of WW1 from the point of view of an Australian infantryman who served in Gallipoli. The song is a searing and unforgettable reminder of the experiences of all of these "colonial boys" who eagerly stood up to serve King and country. Please take a few moments to listen to this amazing song.

To all who have served and who continue to serve: Thank you.

 The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Now when I was a young man and I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of the drover
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915 my country said "Son
It's time to stop rambling, there's work to be done"
And they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war.

And the band played waltzing Matilda
As the ships pulled away from the quay
And amid all the tears, flag waving and cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli

And how I remember that terrible day
How our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs to the slaughter.

Johnny Turk was ready, oh he primed himself well
He rained us with bullets and he showered us with shell
And in five minutes flat we were all blown to hell
Nearly blew us all back home to Australia.

But the band played waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the turks burned theirs
And we started all over again

Those who were living just tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive
While around me the corpses piled higher

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done and I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All round the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me.

They collected the crippled, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled in to Circular Key
And I looked at the place where my legs used to be
I thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity

And the band played waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
And turned all their faces away

So now every April, I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glory

I see the old men all tired, stiff and sore
The weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask "what are they marching for? "
And I ask myself the same question

And the band played waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year, the numbers get fewer
Some day none will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

- Eric Bogle