Sunday, November 13, 2011

Remembrance Sunday

In America, both World War I and World War II are commemorated, but I think that most of us who grew up in the United States do not have quite as visceral an appreciation of these two horrors as those who grew up in Europe.  I imagine that this is because the wars were, quite literally, closer to home for Europeans; the only time that America was attacked on its own soil in either conflict was at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

We learned about the world wars at school, of course, and I remember sobbing in English class in high school as we read All Quiet on the Western Frontbut my first understanding of the Great War came from Rilla of Ingleside, LM Montgomery's final book in the Anne of Green Gables series.  In the novel, all three of Anne's sons enlist, even Walter, her romantic and sensitive middle son.  While at the front, Walter writes a poem that, when published, echoes internationally:

The poem was a short, poignant little thing. In a month it had carried Walter's name to every corner of the globe. Everywhere it was copied-- in metropolitan dailies and little village weeklies--in profound reviews and "agony columns," in Red Cross appeals and Government recruiting propaganda. Mothers and sisters wept over it, young lads thrilled to it, the whole great heart of humanity caught it up as an epitome of all the pain and hope and pity and purpose of the mighty conflict, crystallized in three brief immortal verses. A Canadian lad in the Flanders trenches had written the one great poem of the war. "The Piper," by Pte. Walter Blythe, was a classic from its first printing.

It is assumed that this poem was fictionally written in homage to John McCrae's In Flanders Fields, one of the best-known poems of WWI.  A Canadian military doctor and artillery commander, Major McCrae drafted this piece on the battlefield, and it is recited every year in memory of all those who have given their lives to secure the safety of our own.

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.

To those who sacrifice all that they hold dear in order to guarrantee a more peaceful and just world: thank you.

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