Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest we Forget

I remember each year pausing for a minutes silence at school on Remembrance Day at 11am (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month).  Whatever class we were in the sound system would get our attention and we would stop what we were doing and (if we were well behaved children) be quiet to remember the Armistice at the end of WWI

Well, strictly speaking our timing was off because the Armistice was signed at 11am in UK time, which would make it um... a whole 'nother time in Aussieland.

Our teachers always stressed the silence was supposed to reflect the silence of the battlefields as the guns were silenced.

I remember imagining soldiers firing right up until the last minute, and all stopping as the clock struck the hour – and in that silence facing the horrible and full realisation of all that the war had cost.

Now I live in America, where November 11 is Veterans Day, rather than Remembrance Day.  In America this day is more of a celebration than a solemn remembrance. This was really confronting to me for the first few years, until I worked out that we also have our version of Veterans Day  - in April… we call it ANZAC day (my American readers will have to wait in anticipation for April next year to learn about that – or go to google).

But whichever mindset you bring to November 11  - whether this day is for sad reflection or proud recognition - to point is to not forget. 

Because a senseless waste of life is made all the more pointless if we don’t attempt to learn from our mistakes and do better.

Because for a soldier to sacrifice home, comfort, safety, family and/or life and then to be overlooked and ignored is obscene.



He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow.  Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
-- In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join.  He wonders why . . .
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts.

That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join.  He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet.  He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is!  Why don't they come
And put him into bed?  Why don't they come?

Wilfred Owen 1917

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