Farewell, Florence.
February 7, 2012 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Florence Green, the last know WWI veteran, passed away today. She was two weeks away from her 111th birthday.

The last known WWI combat veteran, Claude Choules, passed last May. (previously)
posted by piratebowling (45 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
posted by beagle at 6:39 PM on February 7, 2012

posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:40 PM on February 7, 2012

posted by dismas at 6:41 PM on February 7, 2012

posted by CrystalDave at 6:43 PM on February 7, 2012

It passes to us to remember.

posted by vorfeed at 6:43 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.

But the past is just the same-and War’s a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench-
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads—those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

posted by Dasein at 6:44 PM on February 7, 2012 [19 favorites]

posted by Elly Vortex at 6:53 PM on February 7, 2012

“Oh, and I thought when I was there, God, what am I doing here?
I’m a-tryin’ to kill somebody or die tryin’
But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine”

posted by docgonzo at 6:54 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

This somehow seems more momentous than the press has been treating it. That's the end of the line, as far as WWI is concerned. The last living connection to the front. All the rats and gas and guns and guts and misery -- all memories must now forever be second-hand.

I don't think man has ever devised a more concentrated torture chamber than the trenches of World War I. Not at Iwo Jima. Not at Stalingrad. Not at Antietam or Ong Tranh. Nowhere. And I just hope -- wish -- we can preserve that memory with all of the direct correspondants now gone.

Or, in other words, what Siegfried Sassoon said (by way of Dasein).
posted by workingdankoch at 6:55 PM on February 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

A poppy. To remember.
posted by SPrintF at 7:00 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

posted by RolandOfEld at 7:09 PM on February 7, 2012

The last living connection to the front.

Actually, the article says she spent the war waitressing at an air base in the UK.
posted by docgonzo at 7:12 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by theartandsound at 7:15 PM on February 7, 2012

Actually, the article says she spent the war waitressing at an air base in the UK.

Yeah, but boy, those airbase mess halls were hell.


Yeah, I saw 'veteran' and my brain short-circuited. Nonetheless, I missed the death of Claude Choules when it happened, so I'm really quite surprised that none of this was a bigger deal.
posted by workingdankoch at 7:16 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by feckless at 7:19 PM on February 7, 2012

posted by trip and a half at 7:21 PM on February 7, 2012

Half-remembered line from a NPR broadcast I heard on Jan. 1, 2000...

Interviewer (to 100 year old woman): What would you say has changed most in your lifetime?
100 year old woman: Women's bathing suits.

Remember that the past is only past if we forget the the changes that bring it to today. To the people who lived it, it's a living, changing, path leading to today.

posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:24 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Wowie wow.

posted by Melismata at 7:29 PM on February 7, 2012

Sic transit gloria mundi.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:31 PM on February 7, 2012


Say that the youngest American veterans of the future who are alive at this moment are 18 years of age, and were born in 1994.* One or more of them could easily be alive and observant in the 2100s, or even the 2110s. I doubt it will be more than a handful; medical science has gone about as far as it will in that regard, and medical care will be more expensive than ever in the future. Nonetheless, a few of those kids are walking among us today.

* Agh God how can that even be, that's so young it could be a mistake I made in high school

posted by Countess Elena at 7:34 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


posted by jonmc at 7:35 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is this where we come to post World War I poetry? 'Cause that's the only good that came out of that war.
posted by maryr at 7:38 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Regarding her veteran status as a waitress, we should remember that the last Canadian and Australian veterans—John Babcock and John Ross—saw no active service, and Frank Buckles, the last US veteran, was an ambulance driver. Women of the WRAF were drivers and mechanics as well as waitresses, but neither they nor Florence were ever going to see combat through "fault" of being women. A more exacting standard for determining veteran status that shut out members of the WRAF would also exclude many men of that time whom we would not hesitate to label as veterans, and even many women of today against whom sexism in the armed forces still works to exclude from combat duty.
posted by Jehan at 7:43 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

To you, from failing hands we throw the torch
Be yours to hold it high
posted by dry white toast at 7:59 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by Bartonius at 8:05 PM on February 7, 2012

posted by flippant at 8:05 PM on February 7, 2012

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

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

-- Laurence Binyon, "For the Fallen"
posted by Mike D at 8:06 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Sphinx at 8:14 PM on February 7, 2012

"'Cause that's the only good that came out of that war."

That, and some very high quality medical advances in both the emergency (triage) and long-term treatment of traumatic injury.
posted by Mike D at 8:16 PM on February 7, 2012

Good point.
posted by maryr at 8:18 PM on February 7, 2012

posted by LobsterMitten at 8:25 PM on February 7, 2012

posted by Halloween Jack at 8:31 PM on February 7, 2012

posted by pjern at 8:59 PM on February 7, 2012

I had no intent to belittle her service just to point out that calling her a last witness to the horror of the trenches was a bit off.
posted by docgonzo at 9:03 PM on February 7, 2012

I am so glad that Ms. Green's service is being honored. It seems like she was a real character who lived life on her own terms!

To be honest, World War I seems so long ago to me that it boggles my mind that the last veteran just died. Even though my own grandfather, who lived until I was in junior high, was a veteran of that conflict, it feels like another world to me, as distant as the US Civil War or the American Revolution.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:48 PM on February 7, 2012


And so the saddest list on Wikipedia shrinks down to just one member: Józef Kowalski, the last remaining veteran of the WWI era and last survivor of the Polish-Soviet War.

In a few decades, the same will start to happen to WWII survivors, youngest of which are pushing seventy.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:05 PM on February 7, 2012

A totally senseless meat grinder of a war. In my early twenties I read a lot about WWII, and finally picked up some WWI books to broaden my outlook. And as horrible as WWII was, WWI has a, um, quality of suffering all of its own.

As an introduction to the subject, I would like to recommend Barbara Tuchman's Pulitzer prize winning The Guns of August, which, though dated, is one of the finest piece of historical writing I've ever come across. The first few paragraphs are very evocative and can be read on the Amazon link.
posted by Harald74 at 12:33 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our 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.
posted by clarknova at 3:36 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Faint of Butt at 3:43 AM on February 8, 2012

An entire generation gone, within living memory - it's getting to me, I have to admit. I've been watching an old tv series recently (Duchess of Duke Street) and it's smack bang in the middle of the First World War right now.

I'm thinking of my Grandfather's memoirs which I finally read when I was about 20 after having heard stories for so many years before that and finally being able to think of him as a human being. Imagine signing up for the trenches before turning 16? The reality of that experience is both unimaginable and capable of evoking such imaginings (none of them good).

All the poems and books and movies and plays and official records and memoirs and photos are all history, confined to their respective mediums because there isn't a voice alive now who can refute them or add to them or offer anything more to what we're left with.

Lest we forget, indeed.
posted by h00py at 4:11 AM on February 8, 2012


Pain, pain continual, pain unending;
Hard even to the roughest, but to those
Hungry for beauty . . . . Not the wisest knows,
Nor the most pitiful-hearted, what the wending
Of one hour's way meant. Grey monotony lending
Weight to the grey skies, grey mud where goes
An army of grey bedrenched scarecrows in rows
Careless at last of cruellest Fate-sending.
Seeing the pitiful eyes of men foredone,
Or horses shot, too tired merely to stir,
Dying in shell-holes both, slain by the mud.
Men broken, shrieking even to hear a gun. -
Till pain grinds down, or lethargy numbs her,
The amazed heart cries angrily out on God.

--Ivor Gurney, February 1917
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:20 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

My own grandfather served in WWI (he was a sgt. in the 8th Infantry Detachment out of Lorch, Germany); he fought through the whole thing, 1914-1918, but he died before I was old enough to ask him about it.

A toast to all their memories, and may we truly never forget.
posted by easily confused at 5:39 AM on February 8, 2012

posted by Jess the Mess at 6:02 AM on February 8, 2012

posted by fremen at 9:05 AM on February 8, 2012

posted by Not The Stig at 6:49 AM on February 9, 2012

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