November 15, 2003

The Flea gives us cause to weep.

Of course, Old Soldiers are prone to weep. Our dead look over our shoulders.

My father's father fought in WWI. He survived, and is buried in Jefferson Barracks Cemetery in St Louis. Among other warriors much younger than he.

The Flea has a post about a recent find in Belgium, near Ypres ("Wipers"), also known as Passchendaele. Where soldiers of the Great War saw the light of day again, after the loamy darkness of an unmarked, unknown grave for 86 years.

"Something like 60 bodies are uncovered each year on the 1914-18 battlefields in France and Belgium - an annual "harvest of bones".

A mound of earth on one corner of the site was heaped with poppies by British and Belgian visitors to mark Remembrance Day and to record the discovery at the spot last week of the body of an unidentified, but probably British, soldier of the Great War.

Only the lower half of his skeleton was found. Another of the bodies discovered near the trenches several weeks ago has been identified, provisionally, as that of a 20-something member of the 5th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers.

As Laurence Binyon observed in "Lest We Forget,"

They shall grow not we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

They may have died in the first gas attack of modern war, as described by Wilfrid Owen...

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Many people alive today in the US (this is NOT as true in Commonwealth Nations, in my experience) do not understand the significance of the Poppies on Remembrance Day, Veteran's Day here in the U.S.

This is it as described by John McRae, yet another War Poet:

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.

Welcome home, soldiers.

In the United States military, when we honor our dead, we play Taps, a song written by General Dan Butterfield during the Civil War, it served as the signal of the end of the day - and by extension, the end of the labors of a soldier's life upon his death.

Many people don't realize there are words - many different ones; these are my favorite:

Day is done.
Gone the sun.
From the lake,
From the hill,
From the sky.
All is well.
Sleep tonight.
God is nigh.

We follow with an honor only dead veterans and living Presidents rate: the 21 gun salute. At graveside - three volleys from seven rifles.

The Commonwealth Armies have similar traditions. Their song for end of the duty day, or a soldiers life is "The Last Post."

The Flea has a feature, where he says, "Now is the time at the Flea when we dance."

We at Castle Argghhh! do not dance. It is too reminiscent of the "Dance of the Hours" in Fantasia for those so unfortunate as to view it.

But today, we make exception.

Now is the time at Castle Argghh! when we dance. In Memoriam.

Not just for these soldiers of the Great War, but for the dead of the war of a new generation, of the American, British, Canadian, and Australian and other allied nations, who took the torch from their forbears, and, while dying fell - and passed the torch to those who as we speak walk the ramparts, pitting themselves, and their future - against the goblins who boil out of the dark places in the earth.

Comments on The Flea gives us cause to weep.