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The moving finger writes
February 18, 2010 5:45 PM   Subscribe

The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on. From the Globe and Mail website: "John Babcock, Canada’s last known First World War veteran, has died, the Prime Minister’s Office said Thursday. Mr. Babcock was 109. In a statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he is deeply saddened to learn of Mr. Babcock’s death. He said that because Mr. Babcock was Canada’s last living link to the First World War, it marks the end of an era. Mr. Babcock joined the military at the age of 16, but because of his age he wasn’t allowed on the frontlines." I could link to bazillions of relevancies but really, so can you. It's all over Canadian news websites. But perhaps just this. Gone west. Rest in Peace, sir. Lest We Forget.
posted by Mike D (42 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
My apologies. I'm new to MeFi posting. The title, "The moving finger writes" was supposed to lead that last post.

But yes, at least "last post" was deliberate.
posted by Mike D at 5:50 PM on February 18, 2010


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posted by Joe Beese at 5:53 PM on February 18, 2010


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posted by mwhybark at 6:03 PM on February 18, 2010


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posted by Bromius at 6:05 PM on February 18, 2010


Wow, that means that we're down to Frank Buckles of West Virginia, who recently turned 109, and that's about it.
Buckles lied about his age to serve. He also wound up as a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II.
Godspeed, Mr. Babcock.
posted by etaoin at 6:08 PM on February 18, 2010


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posted by Salmonberry at 6:19 PM on February 18, 2010


Wow. There's literally a handful left. (And mostly British.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:21 PM on February 18, 2010


And their memories of the event are more than 90 years old.

I can't even imagine what it would be like to have memories that old.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:29 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by jpziller at 6:30 PM on February 18, 2010


In the 80's, on a rainy day in November, I watched 10 old men march past a cenotaph, followed by the veterans of subsequent wars. It was very sad.
posted by ovvl at 6:34 PM on February 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


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Doing some reading about the other remaining veterans, there are some really amazing stories. And quotes. Like this, from the wikipedia entry on Frank Buckles:
When asked about the secret of his long life, Buckles replied: "Hope", adding, "[W]hen you start to die... don't."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:35 PM on February 18, 2010


My grandfather was in WWI on the Italian side.
posted by The Straightener at 6:45 PM on February 18, 2010


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posted by Sk4n at 6:48 PM on February 18, 2010


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posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:58 PM on February 18, 2010


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rest in peace.

thank you.
posted by edmcbride at 7:07 PM on February 18, 2010


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posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:07 PM on February 18, 2010


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posted by macfly at 7:22 PM on February 18, 2010


I lost my grandfather in 1978. RIP Goggie, I still miss you.
posted by pjern at 8:21 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heroes never truly die as long as we remember what they did for us and strive to do the same for future generations.

My grandfather lied and joined the service at 16, too. I cannot imagine such bravery and selflessness, but I will also never take what they accomplished for granted.

Thank you, fallen veterans. Thank you, Mr. Babcock.

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posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:22 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm taking a course in the World Wars, and have been doing a lot of reading about World War I. I find myself baffled, unable to comprehend what the veterans of this war went through, the changes that happened to the planet during this time. The world was one thing the day before the war, and four years later, it was entirely different. And we're still not sure how to deal with all of the consequences of what happened back then.

I read all these incredible stories of things people did, and I try and comprehend that the names in these books were real people, alive, breathing, sweating, scared, incomprehensibly brave, and I simply boggle.

Rest in peace.
posted by MrVisible at 8:59 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was raised in a household with my grandparents, my grandfather born in 1896. He ran away from his overcrowded, dirt poor home in Ireland, to work in London right before the war. He told me that when the negotiations to end the war were going on, he was conscripted to France with a mostly Irish born work crew to make sure there were no mines or booby traps in preparation for the "muckety-mucks". I always assumed he was working outside Versailles in 1919 but have never been able to verify any such minefield existed.

Less than a century ago, but an entirely different world.

RIP.
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posted by readery at 9:29 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holy shit. There are only three verified and two more unverified living WWI vets? Five at the most? My mind is blown now.

Anyone know the number of WWII vets? In the hundreds of thousands, surely, but that number must reduce by a lot everyday. No, I'm usually not so morbid.
posted by zardoz at 9:55 PM on February 18, 2010


God. I'm 25, and don't even have any direct experience of any of this.

But, the moving on of these, the last great heroes of the last just wars is... not so much sad or bad, but. I guess it was already said. It's the end of an era.

I don't want such a thing to happen again, but, in a way, it seems like it was so much better when we could be proud of those that served without reservation. Better isn't even the word.

I mean, these guys fought to preserve their countries and their ways of life. Today, guys fight. Maybe to preserve their own personal ways of live, but not for their fellow men. Not without delusion anyway. it's a job. It's so hard to imagine a genuine impetus to fight... to kill humans in light of why people are fighting now. I don't know whether to cry or vomit.
posted by cmoj at 10:13 PM on February 18, 2010


Seriously, what the fuck are we gonna do when people don't remember what a hero is any more? What are we gonna do if it becomes necessary for there to be real heroes again? I don't want either, but the absence of either might be a big problem.

Man, this knots me up.
posted by cmoj at 10:19 PM on February 18, 2010


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posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:35 PM on February 18, 2010


By total randomness, I happen to be reading a history of WWI these days and, well, it's hard to say anything meaningful except "What a waste." In battle after battle the casualties are in increments of 100,000 men dead. It's incredible, as is the ineptness of military leadership again and again and again. Possibly the only thing worse were the various governments in 1914 who wanted a quick little war and would cook up any excuse to justify starting one. I guess some things don't change.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:48 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, these are "great heroes of the last just wars"?

This isn't WWII, where the enemy was quite obviously evil and had to be stopped. WWI was the last, and by far largest, of the territorial wars the great European nations and their colonies had been fighting for the last century.

The cost in human life and resources was enormous, very little was gained by anyone, and the people fighting the war had little personal stake in it at all, since neither their homes, families, or way of life was directly threatened.

Not trying to disrespect the dead, of course. Just saying that it's pretty hard to construct a "necessary war against an evil enemy" narrative for World War One.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:50 PM on February 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


zardoz: "Holy shit. There are only three verified and two more unverified living WWI vets? Five at the most? My mind is blown now."

This list of course omits Adolf Hitler, whose dark magic-sustained longevity in his UFO base beneath Antarctica will likely outlast the majority of those now living.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:53 PM on February 18, 2010


very little was gained by anyone

I think that's rather a west-centric view - the idea that WWI was a bloody stalemate, and the world post-war was broadly similar to the world pre-war but with lots of needlessly dead soldiers. In eastern and central Europe, the war was a completely transformative event.

On or around 11 November 1918, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Baltic states gained their independence (not that that always ended particularly happily, but it's still celebrated), and Germany overthrew the Kaiser (although the Weimar Republic was a failure, it still paved the way for the post-WWII Bundesrepublik). Add to that the bad but certainly important Russian Revolution, which was hardly a gain, but was still a major shift.

I think you could argue that, rather like the Hundred Years War which was lots of wars over 113 years, WW2 was the second act of WW1.
posted by athenian at 12:47 AM on February 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


109? I can't even wrap my brain around living that long or seeing as much as he did.
Much respect, Mr. Babcock. Thanks for being so stubborn.

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posted by lilywing13 at 12:54 AM on February 19, 2010


very little was gained by anyone

What about Asian peoples? The enormous destruction of the European powers must have advanced their independence by decades at the very least. And I write as a patriotic Brit.
posted by alasdair at 2:39 AM on February 19, 2010


very little was gained by anyone

The Germans didn't get to finish the Berlin to Baghdad railway and start importing the oil from there, thus leaving the path open to the invasions in the late 20th and early 21st centuries by the US and UK. Oh, wait, nothing was gained by anyone then either. Other than mercenaries.

Any loss of life is a tragedy, and the loss of life in the WWI was tragic on an epic scale.
posted by asok at 2:55 AM on February 19, 2010


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posted by Smart Dalek at 3:11 AM on February 19, 2010


Today, guys fight. Maybe to preserve their own personal ways of live, but not for their fellow men. Not without delusion anyway.

For a firsthand exposition on delusion, I recommend War is a Racket, by General Smedley Butler:
Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. There they were remolded; they were made over; they were made to "about face"; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and, through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed.
. . .
In the World War, we used propaganda to make the boys accept conscription. They were made to feel ashamed if they didn't join the army.

So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill the Germans. God is on our side...it is His will that the Germans be killed.

And in Germany, the good pastors called upon the Germans to kill the allies...to please the same God. That was a part of the general propaganda, built up to make people war conscious and murder conscious.

Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die. This was the "war to end all wars." This was the "war to make the world safe for democracy." No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that their going and their dying would mean huge war profits. No one told these American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own brothers here. No one told them that the ships on which they were going to cross might be torpedoed by submarines built with United States patents. They were just told it was to be a "glorious adventure."
Lest we forget, indeed.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:15 AM on February 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


The world was one thing the day before the war, and four years later, it was entirely different.

Reminded me of a story about Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton left on the Trans-Antarctic Expedition on August 8, 1914 (5 days after the start of the war). He returned in 1916, after the loss of his ship and an epic journey in an open boat.

Shackleton asked one the men at the whaling station if the war was over. The answer he got was:

"No. The world has gone mad."
posted by marxchivist at 4:53 AM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


My grandmother barely remembered hearing the church bells ring to announce the armistice. She was a young girl at the time, but she passed away five years ago in her late nineties. I'm still shocked by how long ago that was and that there are any survivors at all. And now, there's one less.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:03 AM on February 19, 2010


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posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:15 AM on February 19, 2010


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I worked on a documentary on him a few years ago called "The Last Soldier". An interesting guy, and he was still a strong quick witted man even in his advanced age.

Thank you Mr. Babcock.
posted by phirleh at 6:31 AM on February 19, 2010


It is strange for the World Wars to become such a long ago event. The latter half of the twentieth century seemed often to be propelled by the inertia of D-Day, but who other than Tom Brokaw even mentions D-Day anymore?
posted by jefficator at 6:50 AM on February 19, 2010


> Holy shit. There are only three verified and two more unverified living WWI vets? Five at the most? My mind is blown now.

I try (and fail) to imagine what the very last living vet will think. I mean, of all the millions of soldiers around the world involved in that war - from the highest general to the lowest grunt - you're the last man standing. How would that feel?
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:54 AM on February 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Card Cheat: "I try (and fail) to imagine what the very last living vet will think. I mean, of all the millions of soldiers around the world involved in that war - from the highest general to the lowest grunt - you're the last man standing. How would that feel?"

For him, the war will be, at most, 4 youthful, extremely long-ago years out of an adult lifetime more than 20 times longer than that. A lifetime that encompassed the invention of flight and men on the moon. Radio and the Internet. Birth of a Nation and Avatar.

He will have already have outlived everyone he went to school with, a great majority of the people he worked with, almost certainly his spouse(s), and quite possibly his children as well.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:36 AM on February 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


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Some people were talking about this at work today. One of them mentioned the Library and Archives Canada site where there are "... over 800,000 images of Attestation papers (that) have been scanned and are being made available on-line." I found my grandfather's attestation papers - you can view both the front and back of the scanned document. Very interesting!
posted by nelvana at 7:01 PM on February 19, 2010


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