Sunday, 29 April 2012

Wars and memories of wars.

My morning reading over coffee this morning was Ronald Blythe's report of visiting the First World War battle fields at Passchendaele. He writes of approaching the area and then suddenly seeing the whole of Flanders Fields - twenty miles or more - stretched out in front of him. He calls it "The Terrible Landscape of the First, Second and Third Ypres." Then he goes to the Menin Gate to hear the bugle sounded at 8pm as it does every night in memory of the dead. Half a million young men killed in such a useless war.

He returns home to write an introductory passage to a diary kept by one of these men, Ernest Goodridge. Ernest knew that in the giant scheme of the battles he would not return home and in his diary and letters home he tries to prepare his parents for his inevitable death. He talks about the comradeship, the shocks and the surprises. One which I found amazing is that of a young teenage West Indian Christian who apologises to Ernest for being black. Ernest is appalled - quite rightly so - but it does throw some light on attitudes in those days. He speaks of the man's beautiful eyes. Later a German dog runs between the lines, loved and petted by both sides. He speaks in his diary of the birds and the flowers being exactly the same as at home. His body lay undiscovered for nine days.

When the telegram arrived, as Ernest knew it would one day, his mother (devout Methodist) asked the minister to read David's Lament for Saul and Jonathan in memory of the comradeship.

Wars, wars, wars - is there ever a time when there is not a war, when men are not killing men and women somewhere in the world.

My brother and my late first husband were both in the Second World War (maybe one of the few wars that was justifiable). My brother was at the relief of Belsen, my husband on the Death Railway as a prisoner of the Japanese. In both cases they rarely spoke of it after the war had finished. I suppose you either let it break you completely or you put it to the back of your mind and got on with life. Brave men both.

And when I walk round my local Tesco's every Tuesday morning I pass strapping young men, many of whom will have done at least one tour in Afghanistan and probably Iraq too. Often they are pushing their babies in the trolley, or carrying them on their shoulders - these young men, often barely out of their teens - what sights they have seen, what horrors they have witnessed, yet they appear to be getting on with life too. It may not be the mud of Passchendaele,but the vast seemingly empty, sandy plains of Afghanistan and the majestic mountains in the background - scenes of quite incredible beauty spoiled by a hideous war. Oh yes, when will they ever learn?

17 comments:

Dominic Rivron said...

I have never lived with a war going on around me, so have no memories of a war.

I am in the middle of watching Das Boot. It's made me weep copiously all the way through so far.

40,000 young men served on Germany's U-boats. Only 10,000 survived.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Too many wars, too many people killed in fighting, so sad.

steven said...

there's such sorrow and suffering and purposelessness. steven

it's me said...

My uncle fought in the Battle of the Bulge and returned a broken man who relived battles over and over until medicated. Before the war, he was a shy, gentle and talented man. He never recovered.

Heather said...

What can I say Pat, except to agree with you once more. My son served with the Army in Northern Ireland and the Gulf and he has dark memories which he keeps to himself. I always feel that those who get home safely, need more bravery to re-adjust themselves to normal life and even more to cope with civilian life if they are invalided out of the Forces.
War is so futile, yet we still seem to be powerless to prevent it. Too many fine young men from 'both sides' have made the final sacrifice.

Mac n' Janet said...

I don't think we'll ever learn. We visited Verdun a number of years ago and it all but broke my heart.

Rachel said...

Let us try to be more cheerful ... the weather is enough to get you down without all this reminiscing about wars and things.

Pondside said...

We have visited many of the war cemeteries in France, Belgium and the Netherlands - thousands of young Canadians buried in foreign soil were thrown into battle for the Mother Country. It is awful now, to read that the First War commanders considered them just so much cannon fodder.

MorningAJ said...

I daren't even start on this topic. I just don't understand why so many politicians (and it IS politicians, not the soldiers themselves) think war is the answer to everything.

John Gray said...

nicely said that woman!

George said...

Like you, Pat, I remain disgusted with the inability of mankind to satisfy its thirst for war. How can we boast of progress when men and women continue to kill each other for political and ethnic reasons. I'm reminded of the great film, "King of Hearts," where you discover that the soldiers are the truly insane, while the so-called lunatics who have been liberated from their asylum are the only sane people to be found.

Jan said...

I have visited some of the Civil War battlefields here in the U.S. They are haunting-so many young men killed and a nation that 150 years later has still not completely healed.

ArcticFox said...

war? what is it good for? Absolutely nothing....

Mary said...

War is horrendous! Politicians are often to blame and term limits are desperately needed for governments.

That said, it will never change........men, yes you guys, are the ones whom we must blame I'm sorry to say. I don't think there's a woman out there who would want to put a son, husband, brother, nephew and of course these days even daughters, nieces and sisters etc. into harm's way and send them to fight in any war.

This is such a volatile subject so I will close for now because it all makes me so angry.

Mary

H said...

The first world war was such a waste; such suffering and so many lives thrown away for no good reason.

Your late husband and brother each experienced events amongst the worst horrors of WWII. For you also, it must have been so hard having to wait!

Totalfeckineejit said...

It is the leaders of countries that make men fight. And perhaps we should remember that it is power that corrupts and power can be misused by men AND women as Margaret Thatcher so ably demonstrated at home (the miners for example) and abroad.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you for your comments. All most interesting - what a lot of memories we all have between us.