Sunday, November 11, 2012

In Flanders Fields

It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month that marked the signing of the Armistice on November 1918. The guns on the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare. More than one million men and women from Britain and the Commonwealth died in World War One between 1914 and 1918.

My grandfather was thirty years old when he fought in the trenches. He was invalided out in 1916 stone-deaf and suffering from shell-shock that meant he would never work again. With eight children to feed it was up to my grandmother to hold the family together.

I never met him. Since my mother was the youngest of eight, Grandad died years before I was born but I think of him often—and always on Remembrance Day or Veteran's Day as it's known in the USA.

Queen Elizabeth II lays the first wreath of poppies at the Cenotaph in Whitehall for all those men and women who have died in warfare. But wreaths are also laid around the country at War Memorials on village greens and in town squares.

It's often asked why the red poppy became the symbol of remembrance.

Flanders—the western part of Belgium—saw the most concentrated and bloodiest fighting in the First World War. There was complete devastation. Buildings, roads, trees and natural life simply disappeared. Where once there were homes and farms there was now a sea of mud. Only one other living thing survived. The poppy. It seemed to bring life, hope, color and reassurance to those still fighting.

John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Canadian Armed Forces wrote this well-known poem.

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.

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