Saturday, 8 November 2014


"The Young Dead Soldiers" by Archibald MacLeish

The young dead soldiers do not speak.

Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them!

They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.

They say: We were young. We have died. Remember us.

They say: We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done.

They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.

They say: Our deaths are not ours; they are yours; they will mean what you make them.

They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say; it is you who must say this.

They say: We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.

We were young, they say. We have died.

Remember us.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the out-break of the 1st World War. Not that it was known as the first world war back then. It was given this name following the out-break of the Second World War just 21 years after the sounds of war ceased and hostilities ended on what became known as Armistice Day on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

The 1st World War was known as “The Great War”, not in the sense we understand great today but due to its size and scale. A war so bloody and destructive that it near annihilated the countries of Europe and the lives of millions of people. Nor was the scale of destruction merely a physical one either, it was emotional, mental and spiritual too. So many lives and communities were destroyed and I don’t think people have ever been quite the same since. It brought to an end the optimism of the nineteenth century and the idea of progress onwards and upwards for ever. Yes wars have continued ever since, but I do not think that any had quite the same impact on the soul of humanity.

The 1st World War heralded the age of extremes, human centred ones, that characterised the 20th century.

There follows two poems from two of the great war poets from the "Great War"

The first is by possibly the best known of the 1st World War poets Wilfred Owen and goes by the title “Anthem for Doomed Youth”

“Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifl es' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, --
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

This second poem is by Charles Sorley, who killed at the age of twenty on 13th October 1915, in the Battle of Loos. He wrote this poem only days before his death.

“When you see millions of the mouthless dead” by Charles Sorley

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, "They are dead."Then add thereto,
"Yet many a better one has died before."
Then, scanning all the o'er crowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

Remembrance Day began as a way to mark those industrial scale losses of human life and human spirit and of course to say never again would we do this to ourselves and one another. The first two minutes silence was held on 11th November 1919, to mark one year since conflict ceased.

Here follows an account of the First Two Minute Silence in London (11th November 1919) as reported in the Manchester Guardian, 12th November 1919.

'The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect.

The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition.

Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of 'attention'. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still ... The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain ... And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.'

Now some think this was so long ago and that we should no longer remember those lives that they should now be consigned to history and that we ought to only really remember those who die in conflict today. While it is true we should remember those lives lost today that does not mean we should forget the past. The lives who are lost today are linked to all who have died in conflict. I believe we need to remember them all together as one, past present and sadly future in the Hope, if not the optimism, that one day we humans will learn the lessons that these silent voices still speak and hush the sounds of war.

Below is a poem by Richard Gilbert which I believe truly captures the spirit behind remembrance...Remembrance is more than merely remembering...

“Remembrance and Remembering” by Richard S Gilbert

Two words,
Same root,
Different meaning.
Remembering is a simple act of recalling the past –
Its shape and lineaments and moments.
Remembrance, however, is quite a different matter.
Remembrance is recalling the past in a way
which inspires us to mold a future.

Remembering is easy.
Humans are remembering creatures.
We remember as regularly as we eat and sleep.
It is as natural as getting up in the morning
And going to bed at night.
It is an act of the mind.

Remembrance is hard.
It requires that the memory of the past
Guide our present and inspire our future.
Remembering is passive images coming into us.
Remembrance is active –
It catches up the memory and mixes it in
The alchemy of our lives
And we emerge from the process as new people.

Let us remember, of course –
We need to remember.
Let us hold in remembrance those persons,
Those events, those experiences,
That have the power to transform our lives.
Then is embodied in us past, present and future.
All bound up in the transitory creatures that we are.

We will remember them. Hopefully not just on Remembrance Sunday though, hopefully we can bring this Remembrance to life. How often do we listen to those now silent voices from the past. Even if we do can we learn the lessons from history? Well it would appear not as we keep on repeating them. I believe it was George Santayana who said "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it," Well it seems we are failing to do so as we keep on repeating the mistakes of the past. I only need look at my own life for proof of this. How many times have I repeated the same mistake over and over again?

That said I am a person who lives in Hope. Hope is my light and inspiration. We can change, lessons can be learnt. How do I know this? Well because I see lessons all around, even in the man looking back at me in the mirror. People and cultures do have the capacity to change.

We need to let hope grow in our hearts, minds and souls. To let those now lost voices speak and be heard and come to life in our feelings, thoughts, words and deeds. We can then let the spirit of remembrance take a hold within us and to grow so that Hope may also take a hold and to grow in our souls and we can then begin to share it with those we share this world with.

Let us live in remembrance. Let us light the flame of Hope in our hearts and souls and let us become beacons to this our world.

The following is an extract from Nobel Prize for Literature Speech given by Roger Martin du Gard at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm December 10, 1937, less than two years before the outbreak of the "Second World War"

"I should like to conclude with a more sombre hypothesis, although I am embarrassed to disturb this festive mood by arousing those painful thoughts that haunt all of us. However, perhaps the Swedish Academy did not hesitate to express a special purpose by drawing the attention of the intellectual world to the author of L’Été 1914 [Summer 1914].

That is the title of my last book. It is not for me to judge its value. But at least I know what I set out to do: in the course of these three volumes I tried to revivify the anguished atmosphere of Europe on the eve of the mobilizations of 1914. I tried to show the weakness of the governments of that day, their hesitations, indiscretions, and unavowed desires; I tried above all to give an impression of the stupefaction of the peaceful masses before the approach of that cataclysm whose victims they were going to be, that cataclysm which was to leave nine million men dead and ten million men crippled.

When I see that one of the highest literary juries in the world supports these books with the prestige of its incontestable authority, I ask myself whether the reason may not be that these books through their wide circulation have appeared to defend certain values that are again being threatened and to fight against the evil contagion of the forces of war.

For I am a son of the West, where the noise of arms does not let our minds rest. Since we have come together today on the tenth of December, the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel (that man of action, “no mere shadow,” who in the last years of his life seems indeed to have put his supreme hope in the brotherhood of nations), permit me to confess how good it would be to think that my work – the work that has just been honoured in his name – might serve not only the cause of letters, but even the cause of peace.

In these months of anxiety in which we are living, when blood is already being shed in two extreme parts of the globe, when practically everywhere in an atmosphere polluted by misery and fanaticism passions are seething around pointed guns, when too many signs are again heralding the return of that languid defeatism, that general consent which alone makes wars possible: at this exceptionally grave moment through which humanity is passing, I wish, without vanity, but with a gnawing disquietude in my heart, that my books about Summer 1914 may be read and discussed, and that they may remind all – the old who have forgotten as well as the young who either do not know or do not care – of the sad lesson of the past."

Finally I will end with this contemporary piece of writing by David Mace. I think it truly the impact of what we have called "The Great War"...Lest we forget...

“Some Corner of a Foreign Field” by David Mace

We read the books, we watch the movies; read newspapers... maybe write
a line or so, of poetry; or watch on TV, any night
something, somewhere, of some War... the Media Circus, we all know;
but, to see the cost; then to the North of England, you should go.
For you can pick up any map, choose any town or village there,
and should you travel to that place, then you are quickly made aware
of what War really is about... for each place has its own Stone Cross...
The War Memorial; all closely carved with the Communal loss
of a Generation... all the young men from close-cobbled lanes,
who volunteered to fight for King and Country... few came home again.

Grandfather said Recruiting Sergeants travelled round the local pubs,
patriotic fervour... whipping up, in Alehouses and Clubs.
Perhaps, in tow... some floozy from some Music Hall, who danced and sang,
drawing in the young men, with the... "Come on boys, prove you're a Man.
Come and take the King's Shilling... sign upon the dotted line.
All your pals are joining up. Don't be scared, you'll be just fine!"
And "Pals," then, was the fateful word... some fool in Whitehall hatched a plan
to keep the men from each place, all together in a close-knit band;
called "The Pals Battalions," who would fight together... side by side;
not for comradeship... more fear of shaming in each others eyes.

And the young men flooded in; perhaps, to escape drudgery
of Dark, Satanic Mills, Pin Factories or Blistering Iron Foundries.
"By Christmas, it will all be over"... but, so little, did they know,
and, in their hundreds, they signed up, a'soldiering in France, to go.
But, as they marched out of their villages and towns, to cheering crowds,
with flags and bunting gaily waving... old men turned, and said out loud
to each other, shaking heads... no good at all, would come of this;
for in a charge, the Boche could wipe the village out... they could not miss.
And, it was not for nothing, they decried this Military travesty,
for these old men had fought the Boers, and quelled the Indian Mutiny.

Knowing then, what modern weaponry could do to flesh and bone;
knowing that the General Staff were so remote, and quite alone
in their belief that Flanders could be fought, the same as Waterloo;
"Lions led by Donkeys" is the phrase Historians use... how true.
The truth is this... forget TV, and what is on the Silver Screen;
forget the faded photographs, for none of this is what it seems.
Forget the grainy film of "No Mans' Land," and "Going over the Top"...
all filmed at home, on Salisbury Plain... a truthless, propaganda sop
fed to the public in the Picture Palaces, to boost morale,
coercing them to buy War Bonds... concealing truth about "The Pals."

For, "Going over the Top" was very close to orderly suicide...
bayonets fixed, all waiting for the whistle, standing side by side.
Then, the scramble from the trench... and walking forwards, steadily
into "No Mans' Land"... the tangled barbed wire... and Eternity.
Shoulder then, to shoulder; trudging on towards the German wire,
and, shoulder then, to shoulder; swift, mown down, by vicious, withering fire
from machine guns, well dug in, all along the parapet
of the German Front line trench... how could they run that lead gauntlet?
July, the first,1916... the bloody first day of the Somme.
The Accrington Pals, strength seven hundred; close, six hundred dead and gone.

So, too; the Leeds Pals, strength nine hundred... above three quarters cut to shreds,
repeated all along the Front... The Big Push... in which, it is said
The Flower of English youth was sacrificed that day, for an ideal;
innocence had died that day... traditional tactics proved unreal.
The cost?... the whistles shrilled at half-past seven on that sunny morn;
by 10 o'clock... the British losses... fifty-two thousand men were gone.
Most of those within the first hour, whole platoons of Pals cut down;
killed or wounded, out in No Man's Land... for a few yards of ground.
And, at the closing of the day, the Pals Battalions, all, were gone;
sixty thousand men were lost, that bloody First day on the Somme.

And, through the Northern towns and villages, the church bells tolled forlorn,
for days...
in Accrington and Barnsley, Bradford, Leeds... they all were gone.
Brothers, cousins, workmates, friends, in the same factories, pits, or mills,
who often lived in the same street, had gone to the same school, and still
had courted the same sweethearts, or by marriage, were related too;
the Pals, the Chums... so thickly then, their corpses, Flanders Fields, bestrew.
Scarce a household left untouched... scarce a house, no curtains drawn;
smoky, cobbled streets all shrouded, silent... grief, so bravely borne.
All together, tied by bonds of local pride, they marched away,
all together, bonded now, in Death... in Flanders Field, they lay.

The Great War, called "The War to end all Wars"... the facile arrogance
of Politicians, who saw nothing of the carnage there, in France
and Belgium...
and, there have been many conflicts since, more bloody war,
have we not learned a thing, these years?
Is it not time we cried, "No More?"
For if the Politicians had to fight... then, would there still be Wars?
Somehow, l don't think so... for them, the cure would be worse, than the cause.
lf you ever chance to visit Northern England, just seek out
the Local War Memorial; count the family names... if you should doubt.
See there, the Flower of a Generation squandered, out of hand...
sometimes, still... the echoes ripple through this green, and pleasant land.

Every family in the North was touched by that day, it is said,
in some way or another... someone missing, someone maimed... or dead.
For every nine sent out in No Man's Land, five casualties went down,
and of those five, a third were killed... or nothing of them, ever found.
A Husband, Son, or Brother; Cousin, Friend, or Lover, lost that day;
no-one imagined this, as they stood, cheering them upon their way,
back then, down the same cobbled streets; with curtains drawn now, silently;
all round the smoky, terraced houses, grief now hanging, heavily.
A loss that almost robbed a Nation of its future... such a debt
yet owed to those who still sleep, lost
in Flanders Field...

Lest We Forget.

David Mace, 2008

"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."

I will end this with some words of blessing for the whole of humanity...I still live in Hope...

May there be a little more peace among the nations, for other lands and for ours. And may there be peace in our families and peace in our own hearts.

And may we carry that peace with us in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do

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