Today is a day that many spend in remembrance. We remember those who’ve lost their lives in all conflicts, but before that, it was a day of remembrance for those who fell in the First World War. Today marked the 95th anniversary of the day that the war finally drew to a close on the Western Front.
“Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible.” – Unknown, Verdun, May 1916.
I’ve always been fascinated with this conflict in particular. From a very young age I was very interested in history, and I believe that watching the brilliant programme ‘War Walks’, presented by the sadly late Professor Richard Holmes, had a huge influence on my later interest in World War One. I can’t pin down exactly what it was, but he managed to capture my young imagination with his tales. A truly passionate historian his representation of the Battles of Mons, Le Cateau and The Somme stood out especially for me. He helped communicated perhaps the most important thing about the war – what the men who fought it went through. I think the horror of the conflict was an aspect of why I’ve always harboured an interest for it. The sheer scale of death and carnage is still hard for me, and many others to comprehend. It defies comprehension how men and in many cases, boys, mustered the strength to climb ‘over the top’. We will never be able to truly understand the gut-wrenching terror they experience. Photographs, however stark they may be, can only portray half of the story. Since June of 2011 I’ve been listening to a podcast produced by the Imperial War Museum called ‘Voices of the First World War.’ It has been an incredibly informative documentary of the many varied aspects of the war, told by the men and women that experienced them. I highly recommend listening to them. Each episode is roughly 20 minutes long, they really bring across what the war meant to those who fought it – http://www.1914.org/podcasts/. I really hope that you listen to this – the First World War had such an impact on the rest of the 20th century, it is important that it’s legacy continues to be explained.
As much as I have a passion for the First World War, I try not to get caught up in the now ritual of Remembrance Sunday. I spend two minutes in silence to remember the abject horror of what men and women far braver than I willingly went through. I think of my Grandpa, who left for France in 1939. He spent three days on the beach at Dunkirk, not knowing if he was going to be rescued, or killed by a German shell or Stuka dive-bomber. I remember how lucky I was to have briefly known him before he sadly died. He made it through the Evacuation of France, the campaign in North African, and Italy. He came back and married my Grandma, had my Dad and here I am today. This is what I do in the 11th of November.
Usually I would buy a poppy but I’m no longer comfortable with how Remembrance Day is, at least in my eyes, becoming increasingly jingoistic. Words such as pride, honour and glory are bandied about with abandon, but I don’t believe there is a need to take pride in war. I don’t believe that there is any honour or glory to be gained from conflict. Perhaps, once, capturing a Spanish galleon was an honour, and the Duke of Wellington’s Peninsular Campaign was glorious. But not any more.
Heaviness aside, I thought I’d share some songs that are fitting today.
A song performed by folk artist Eric Bogle, ‘And the band played Waltzing Matilda’ is a song about a young Australian man that signs up to fight in the First World War and is sent to fight at Gallipoli. A beautiful song, it has since become the unofficial national anthem of Australia.
Boston band, Dropkick Murphys covered an Eric Bogle song ‘The Green Fiends of France’, also known as ‘No Mans Land.’ It tells the sombre tale of the men that went to France and never made it back, lamenting over the futility of war.
The opening credits of Band of Brothers never fails to give me goosebumps. A beautifully scored piece of music by Michael Kamen, it fits perfectly with the heroic, yet incredibly sad themes found within the series.
In the gym today, the radio went silent for 2 minutes at 11 o’clock. The song that was played afterwards was Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold.’ I thought this was a great choice, as what song do you open with after spending 2 minutes remembering the dead? I though that it was fitting that now, the battlefields that men fought and died upon are now fields of wheat, barley and poppies blowing in the wind.
Here are the links for the WWI episodes from Richard Holmes’ ‘War Walks’. I hope you give them a watch.
Mons and Le Cateau – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lahW_etCwuw
The Somme – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72wUyowkfQA