Between the crosses, row on row
November 11, 2012 12:52 AM   Subscribe


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 tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped 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 I 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,
Obscene as cancer, 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 Blue Meanie at 1:21 AM on November 11, 2012 [29 favorites]

DOES it matter?—losing your legs?...
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does it matter?—losing your sight?...
There’s such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.

Do they matter?—those dreams from the pit?...
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won’t say that you’re mad;
For they’ll know you’ve fought for your country
And no one will worry a bit.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:27 AM on November 11, 2012 [13 favorites]

My great uncle joined the Royal Artillery shortly before the war. He was stationed in Guernsey when he deserted the army to be with his sweetheart. To avoid the military police he went first to South Africa, then to India, before ending up working as a farm hand on a mate's ranch in Australia, which was where he was when the fighting began. Unable to join the British army again due to his deserter status, he volunteered along with his best friend and 1 in 2 Australian men for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and was shipped off to a place on the coast of Turkey known as Gallipoli.

The Anzac troops landed on the shores of the Dardanelles amid a hail of machine gun and shell fire. He distinguished himself by capturing a Turkish machine gun post and turning the gun upon its previous owners. He was wounded in the early days of the fighting and subsequently sent to a military hospital in Alexandria, Egypt, to recover. He was then sent back to Gallipoli in time to take part in the diversionary assault on the heavily fortified trench position at Lone Pine.

The Turkish trenches were deep and well constructed, sandbagged and covered with logs and earthworks. Although the Australians had the shortest distance to cover over no-man's land (only 100 meters) they had to do so under heavy enfilading machine gun and rifle fire from the well entrenched Turks.

Once across the blasted waste and into the trenches the Anzac soldiers found themselves fighting in a hot, dark, cramped press of men; thousands of fighting figures crammed into a trench only a few feet wide. The conditions were so tight that rifles could not be used and the battle devolved into a melee of entrenching tools, knives, clubs and fists. In the hideous, gloomy, bloody mess of those trenches friend and foe were all but indistinguishable. Only by white bands tied around the arms of their fellow Anzacs could a comrade be separated from the man trying to kill you.

My great uncle died somewhere between the 8th and 12th of August, when his body was found, amid many others, both Turk and Australian, in a huge shell crater just behind the captured Turkish trenches.

I do not celebrate Remembrance Day. It is not a celebration. It is a day of mourning, a day to remember the horrors and tragedy of war. It is not a day to hate the Turkish people, or any of the other belligerents. It is a day to remember all the dead, all those who did not grow old. It is a day to mark so that people like my great uncle do not have to go through such a nightmare again.

So if you have a problem with remembrance day, then you are remembering it wrong.
posted by dazed_one at 1:38 AM on November 11, 2012 [81 favorites]

Willy McBride has been on my mind this month. Seems worth mentioning here.
posted by DataPacRat at 2:12 AM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bogle's And the Band Played Waltzing Mathilda is also apt.
posted by dazed_one at 2:17 AM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony--Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”
― Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
posted by runincircles at 2:20 AM on November 11, 2012 [12 favorites]

Ataturk was the Ottoman commander at Gallipoli, later the first President of Turkey. Here's how he commemorated the Australian war dead in the Memorial at ANZAC Cove:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…You are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…

You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:22 AM on November 11, 2012 [31 favorites]

There should be a web standard such that when your browser is directed to one of these virtual gravesites, all music and system sounds are rendered silent.

Glen Greenwald: Petraeus scandal is reported with compelled veneration of all things military
posted by victory_laser at 2:35 AM on November 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will Make the sunny hours of Spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And Autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain,
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to the Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.

But, though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.

To R. A. L. Died of Wounds in France, December 23rd 1915

Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth shows what it was like for those who did not, could not fight, but had to watch their sons, husbands and brothers die in the war.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:53 AM on November 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

I've been rereading Barbara Tuchman's 'The Guns Of August' recently. It's as good a picture as any of the outright idiocy that led up to World War I. Madness.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:07 AM on November 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Tonight at bed time my sons reminded me that we hadn't commemorated the soldiers who had died by offering up a minute's silence.

I told them about their great-grandpa, Harold, who was 15 when he ran away to war in 1916 and who suffered the most terrible things in the fields of France. He survived the war but with permanent damage to his lungs because of the gas, along with so many other scars from that war which he carried within him until his death.

I asked them to give thanks to those who have sacrificed if not all then a major part of themselves with a fervent hope that one day we will never ask this of anyone ever again.

Aiden recited In Flanders Field, which he'd learned in class, Ash stayed quiet for a whole minute, and altogether we said 'lest we forget'. I told them I loved them and they went to sleep. And here I am, thinking of Grandpa and so many others who have offered themselves up as pawns to be used in the terrible games that people play. I abhor those games but I will always remember and cherish those who are the human face of war.
posted by h00py at 3:30 AM on November 11, 2012 [11 favorites]

Rilla of Ingleside, the last of the "Anne of Green Gables" novels, and starring Anne's youngest daughter, is notable for being one of the few depictions of the women on the Home Front during WWI. The absence of men is also notable -- Anne comes of age in a world of excluded men by traditions separating the sexes and by choice of bosom friends. Rilla comes of age in a world of no men for they have all gome to war. There are interesting and deliberate contrasts between the two books showing how different a world Anne's daughters faced. But if you just want THE novel of the feminine experience in Canada, its Rilla.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:36 AM on November 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

SO Davies wrote: ‘This leaves me in the pink’.
Then scrawled his name: ‘Your loving sweetheart, Willie’.
With crosses for a hug. He’d had a drink
Of rum and tea; and, though the barn was chilly,
For once his blood ran warm; he had pay to spend.
Winter was passing; soon the year would mend.

But he couldn’t sleep that night; stiff in the dark
He groaned and thought of Sundays at the farm,
And how he’d go as cheerful as a lark
In his best suit, to wander arm in arm
With brown-eyed Gwen, and whisper in her ear
The simple, silly things she liked to hear.

And then he thought: to-morrow night we trudge
Up to the trenches, and my boots are rotten.
Five miles of stodgy clay and freezing sludge,
And everything but wretchedness forgotten.
To-night he’s in the pink; but soon he’ll die.
And still the war goes on—he don’t know why.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:50 AM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Every year I keep forgetting that I can't get the red poppy pins in New York and therefore forget to pick up one in advance on Thanksgiving. I wonder if the consulate has any.

In Canada, November 11 is traditionally observed as a day of somber rememberance; respect for those who died and reflection on the horrors of war. "Never again" is a frequent refrain. Typical events include pipers and veterans marching to the war memorial for wreath-laying ceremonies and/or a gun salute. Some years, this parade reminds me of a funeral procession.

The Memorial Day occasion in the States has a very different feel. The parades seem triumphant and celebratory, with jet flyovers and free hot dogs for the kids. Along with the cheerful sales promotions and "Happy Memorial Day!" signs, it took some getting used to.

The New York observance of the anniversary of 9/11 is the closest I've seen to an equivalent Rememberance occasion in the US. You won't see flyers for "Macy's 9/11 Electronics Sales Event!" or similar, that weekend.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:09 AM on November 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

"More4 is marking Remembrance Sunday this weekend with a series of short films featuring some of Britain's finest actors reading war poetry from the period. Sean Bean and Gemma Arterton read poems by Wilfred Owen, and Sophie Okonedo reads one of Rupert Brooke's pieces"
posted by Augenblick at 4:12 AM on November 11, 2012

The US does officially observe 11 November, but as "Veteran's Day." Most people don't have it off work or school and it mostly goes unobserved, other than the pressure to "thank a vet". A veteran I am related to who works at a school was very upset when a formerly Vietnam war-protesting, bleeding heart liberal teacher at the school read "In Flanders Fields" during morning announcements, rather than the school allowing a "real veteran" to say something. The focus is entirely different and it's not about "never again", it feels more like "this is a necessary evil so we're grateful to the people who fight." I won't say that's the "wrong" focus but it is quite different from what I see in Remembrance Day or ANZAC Day observances.

And yeah, Memorial Day is about cookouts and flags.

I'm in the UK now and just came back from the Remembrance Day service in the city I live in, and got myself a poppy on Thursday after feeling uncomfortable walking around all week without one. (No one beats the US for superficial veteran worship/recognition but boy I felt out of place here not having my poppy) It is without a doubt more somber and reflective here than it is in the US, and the chaplain who did the service this morning made a point to mention the civilian casualties of war, which I thought was very good. All things considered I found this service today far more meaningful than any Veteran's Day or Memorial Day activity I've been to in the US.
posted by olinerd at 4:18 AM on November 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Bogle gets credit for writing it, but it should be performed by The Pogues.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:33 AM on November 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

From a different war, one that's too often remembered as a solely American trauma, but which had a large ANZAC contribution as well: Redgum's I Was Only 19, linked here before.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:49 AM on November 11, 2012

This image has sat with me today
posted by Petrot at 5:01 AM on November 11, 2012 [18 favorites]

I went to a memorial this morning, but only as I had to take some photos for a magazine. Otherwise, I don't go, in memory of my grandfather.

My grandfather was forced to fight in the First World War, and never went to Remembrance Day as he found it ridiculous. Like him, an awful of soldiers were conscripts who didn't want to be there, who were little more than civilian victims in uniform. The motto of the day is "lest we forget", yet by remembering them as soldiers, as heroes, as honorable because they fought and died, we've already forgotten them. Where are the frightened teens, the cowards, the folk who wept themselves to sleep in fear of death? We are remembering nothing but ghosts of our own pride.

Once, as an old man, my grandfather was listening to somebody on radio talk about the First World War. He never really spoke about his experience, nor showed much emotion. But here, a man was speaking in glowing, honorable tones about the "sacrifice" soldiers had made in that war, speaking as though he knew the dead soldiers personally. My grandfather wept—the only time my father ever saw him do so—and shouted, "You weren't there, you don't know! You weren't there!" My grandfather was being written out of history, and millions of those who suffered with him likewise.

The hypocrites can keep their flags and medals, their drums and trumpets, their vain show and empty words. They march like a little army through the streets, ready to fight another war, but this time against history. Those poor soldiers never get any rest, but are dug up and killed anew every year. Lest we remember.
posted by Jehan at 5:31 AM on November 11, 2012 [46 favorites]

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

posted by KokuRyu at 5:32 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

What always grates me at Remembrance Day ceremonies at the cenotaph on the lawn of the legislature is the oppressive (but understandable) martial atmosphere, with howitzers saluting and jets flying past, and the absurd blanket statement that "they died to make the world a better place." Perhaps that is what each soldier thought, but it's idiotic to say that about a conflict like World War I.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:35 AM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

My great-uncle was in the balloon corps in France. He never spoke of the experience, but whenever there was a thunder and lightning storm he took his wife and child and hid in the bathroom of their apartment, the only room that had no windows.

A great uncle on the other side, irretrievably distant when I knew him, was described by his brother as having been a wonderful, kind man until he, too, spent time serving in France. I knew him only as a broken alcoholic who would not look anyone in the eye.

Two men, still damaged fifty decades later. So many truncated, ruined lives.

Thank you for posting. To me this day will always be Armistice Day.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:40 AM on November 11, 2012

I was shopping today at 11:11.
Some guy mumbled something over the store PA and they played Last Post, and the shop went silent, except for the television that was cranked up and playing said store's annoyingly jaunty tune, and telling me all the great things I could be spending my cast on.

Not being the type to stand there and whatever, I continued to browse in the same section of shelves (for what seemed more than a minute) so as not to interfere with all the serious commemoration people, I noticed there was also the ping-ping-ping of the register to accompany the jingle.

I guess capitalism and commerce stop for nothing.
posted by Mezentian at 6:01 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

We all volunteered, and we wrote down our names,
And we added two years to our ages,
Eager for life and ahead of the game,
Ready for history's pages,
And we brawled and we fought and we whored 'til we stood,
Ten thousand shoulder to shoulder,
A thirst for the Hun, we were food for the gun,
And that's what you are when you're soldiers
posted by Sailormom at 6:17 AM on November 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Perhaps that is what each soldier thought, but it's idiotic to say that about a conflict like World War I.

A war - let it be remembered - in which no volunteer armies participated.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:41 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

So if you have a problem with remembrance day, then you are remembering it wrong.

For what it's worth, though, this is kind of the point of the article. The author takes issue with how the public-at-large is 'remembering' and implicitly advocates the day of mourning you mention.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:48 AM on November 11, 2012

Your story, Mezentian, reminded me of something I saw a few years ago.

I was watching Platoon on cable TV. In the final scene, with that famously melancholic music, we see bulldozers push dirty bodies into pits, as Charlie Sheen's character is loaded on a stretcher into a helicopter, to be sent home.

Charlie starts weeping, and the final monologue is dubbed in over the action as the helicopter lifts off and flies away:
I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves. The enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it wi

Instead of hearing Sheen say he'll "try with what's left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life" I heard some cheery announcer try to sell me on the next program, as the movie window shrunk to half size, and the network's graphics came swooping in, framing the soldier in his agonizing, epiphanic moment.
posted by victory_laser at 6:48 AM on November 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Lest we forget that "Lest We Forget" does not mean "Lest We Forget That These Brave Heroes Bravely Sacrificed Blah Blah Bravery Heroism Sacrifice Blah" but rather "Lest We Forget That We Sent These People To Kill And To Die For No Good Reason, Which Was A Really Bloody Stupid Thing For Us To Have Done."
posted by Sys Rq at 6:51 AM on November 11, 2012 [10 favorites]

Lest we forget that "Lest We Forget" does not mean "Lest We Forget That These Brave Heroes Bravely Sacrificed Blah Blah Bravery Heroism Sacrifice Blah" but rather "Lest We Forget That We Sent These People To Kill And To Die For No Good Reason, Which Was A Really Bloody Stupid Thing For Us To Have Done."

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
                                 I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                What place is this?
                                Where are we now?

                                I am the grass.
                                Let me work.
posted by tzikeh at 6:58 AM on November 11, 2012 [11 favorites]

It sucks when this day falls on a Saturday or Sunday. A Friday or a Monday observance would have really done wonders for the pre-Black Friday economic situation, as well as all the money spent on the food and festivities which usually occur over a three-day holiday weekend.
posted by Renoroc at 6:58 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I mourn; I do not celebrate.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:10 AM on November 11, 2012

I've always preferred the more solemn approach towards remembrance in the UK and Commonwealth. The more raucous US version just leaves me cold.

There's not enough periods in the world convey the grief and loss that this day signifies. I remain forever grateful for their sacrifice.
posted by arcticseal at 7:10 AM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

My great uncle volunteered in WWI when he was a year too young, and he died two weeks before Armistice. Even so, he was responsible, in a roundabout way, for my parents meeting, and therefore, me. RIP.
posted by oneironaut at 7:19 AM on November 11, 2012

A war - let it be remembered - in which no volunteer armies participated.

Yes and no. Britain didn't institute conscription until 1916. Before that, when General Kitchener wanted you, they signed up in droves.

(Uncle Sam didn't wait around, he saw our lack of enthusiasm and clamped down right quick. Even so, in short order we went from "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier" to "Over There". Scary, really)

Family history - One grandfather was in the US Army, the other a pacifist who lost his teaching position for his position, and two great uncles on the "other" side.

Lest we forget.
posted by BWA at 7:36 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

runincircles, on that note:

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
By his dead smile, I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange, friend," I said, "Here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said the other, "Save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ."

posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:36 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes and no. Britain didn't institute conscription until 1916. Before that, when General Kitchener wanted you, they signed up in droves.
Flocks, not droves. Each callow bird came with his own white feather.
posted by Jehan at 7:50 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Mister Bijou at 7:53 AM on November 11, 2012

posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 7:54 AM on November 11, 2012

Also around this time every year is the anniversary of Operation Hump, with a particularly crisp set of images that I use to flag my not altogether misspent youth.

However, John McCrae was especially qualified to mark the season:

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915.

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.
posted by mule98J at 7:59 AM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by parki at 8:05 AM on November 11, 2012

A war - let it be remembered - in which no volunteer armies participated.

Most of the Canadians who fought were volunteers. Conscription began late in the war. We can talk about the incredible pressure to join up, but there were still millions of voluntary volunteers who did not need the pressure (but may have pressured others).

In Britain, more upperclass young men died proportionately in WWI than lower-class men -- because young officers were more likely to die than enlisted, and because more upperclass men volunteered than lowerclass. For more, this is a good demographic study.

Of all of the wars of the 20th century, WWI is not a good example of elites sending off poor people to die for them. Certainly for the British - and Canadians and other commonwealth citizens - we sent our own sons, brothers and fathers.
posted by jb at 8:12 AM on November 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't mourn this day, or celebrate, because those particular choices don't seem to be working out to well for me. But I do remember. That's my job. They would do the same for me, if they could.
posted by mule98J at 8:15 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

A war - let it be remembered - in which no volunteer armies participated.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:41 AM on November 11 [+] [!]

Not entirely accurate. There was no conscription in Australia during the war.
posted by dazed_one at 8:29 AM on November 11, 2012

June 9, 1918
To: J.W. Hodges
RFD #1

From: Anniston, Ala.

Dear Mamma,

I received your letter a few days ago, but I have been so busy that I haven’t had time to write. Well, I may leave here pretty soon, but I don’t know just when it will be. It was alright for you to spend some of the money, but if you get the other before I go across, I wish that you would send it to me. After that, you can do anything you want to with it.

Well, I didn’t get to go to see my girl to-day, but I am not much grieved about it. If you do not hear from me for a week or two, do not be surprised, I don’t know where we are going across, but all the boys address a card to their parents before they leave and when the ship arrives safe on the other side, it is sent to you.

I will close. Ans. soon. Joe

My add. Is the same.

July 21, 1918
To: J.W. Hodges
RFD #1

Dear Mamma,

I will try and answer your letter which I received about a week ago. We have moved again and I guess that we will have a little fun before very long. I guess you will be surprised to know that I am as close to the ___________ as from ________ to _________. I have been almost all the way across France and I like better every day. I think I will just marry a French girl when the war is over and stay over here, what do you think of that? Well, I have an automatic rifle squad and I think that we will get a few of the Germans. It seems that pay day will never come. It is almost three months off now. There is nothing much to buy over here, but I would like have a little money. I will close. Answer real soon.

March 4, 1919
To: J.W. Hodges
RFD #1

Dear Mamma,

I will try and write to you again to-day as I am not drilling. I am on guard and I am lucky too because it is raining. It rained yesterday and I was out on the rifle range. The rain doesn’t make any difference with us. We drill in any kind of weather. I will be glad when June comes. It will all be over. I guess unless there is another war by that time, but I think by the next war, I can stay at home and wave a flag when the boys leave and say “so long boys. I hate to see you go.”

Well, the boys forgot my birthday I guess. Anyway, they did not do any thing to me. I hope that you all are well by now.

I will close. Ans. soon.

March 20, 1919
To: J.W. Hodges
RFD #1

Dear Mamma,

I will try and write to you all again. We are not drilling to-day. It has been snowing all the morning, but its the first time we have stayed on account a snow or rain. This is pretty late for it to snow, but it is two inches deep. I had a pass to go to a football game to-day, but I don’t think I will go. It is too cold and we have to go in trucks anyway.

I had a letter from Charlie a few days ago and he said that he thought that he would be home soon. I guess he will get home before I do, but let’s all hope it won’t be later than June when I get back. I can sign up in the regular Army for three more years and get a sixty day furlough home not counting traveling time, but I don’t believe I like France that well. Some of the boys are going to though.

I think that it makes sense for Grandpa to take care of the girls while I am over here, don’t you? I will close. Ans. soon.

PS I am going to have some pictures made as soon as I get where I can and will send you one.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:32 AM on November 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

RETURN to greet me, colours that were my joy,
Not in the woeful crimson of men slain,
But shining as a garden; come with the streaming
Banners of dawn and sundown after rain.

I want to fill my gaze with blue and silver,
Radiance through living roses, spires of green,
Rising in young-limbed copse and lovely wood,
Where the hueless wind passes and cries unseen.

I am not sad; only I long for lustre,—
Tired of the greys and browns and leafless ash.
I would have hours that move like a glitter of dancers,
Far from the angry guns that boom and flash.

Return, musical, gay with blossom and fleetness,
Days when my sight shall be clear and my heart rejoice;
Come from the sea with breadth of approaching brightness,
When the blithe wind laughs on the hills with uplifted voice.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:37 AM on November 11, 2012

Shorter "In Flanders Fields":

We all got slaughtered, so hurry up and enlist!
posted by thelonius at 9:06 AM on November 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

I wish there was also room on this day to remember those who did not choose to go to war, but lived through it all the same. None of my family members served in any military, but they lived on other people's battlegrounds.
posted by emeiji at 9:28 AM on November 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

1. Before an Examination

The little letters dance across the page,
Flaunt and retire, and trick the tired eyes;
Sick of the strain, the glaring light, I rise
Yawning and stretching, full of empty rage
At the dull maunderings of a long dead sage,
Fling up the windows, fling aside his lies;
Choosing to breathe, not stifle and be wise,
And let the air pour in upon my cage.

The breeze blows cool and there are stars and stars
Beyond the dark, soft masses of the elms
That whisper things in windy tones and light.
They seem to wheel for dim, celestial wars;
And I -- I hear the clash of silver helms
Ring icy-clear from the far deeps of night.

2. Talk

Tobacco smoke drifts up to the dim ceiling
From half a dozen pipes and cigarettes,
Curling in endless shapes, in blue rings wheeling,
As formless as our talk. Phil, drawling, bets
Cornell will win the relay in a walk,
While Bob and Mac discuss the Giants' chances;
Deep in a morris-chair, Bill scowls at "Falk",
John gives large views about the last few dances.

And so it goes -- an idle speech and aimless,
A few chance phrases; yet I see behind
The empty words the gleam of a beauty tameless,
Friendship and peace and fire to strike men blind,
Till the whole world seems small and bright to hold --
Of all our youth this hour is pure gold.

3. May Morning

I lie stretched out upon the window-seat
And doze, and read a page or two, and doze,
And feel the air like water on me close,
Great waves of sunny air that lip and beat
With a small noise, monotonous and sweet,
Against the window -- and the scent of cool,
Frail flowers by some brown and dew-drenched pool
Possesses me from drowsy head to feet.

This is the time of all-sufficing laughter
At idiotic things some one has done,
And there is neither past nor vague hereafter.
And all your body stretches in the sun
And drinks the light in like a liquid thing;
Filled with the divine languor of late spring.

4. Return -- 1917

"The College will reopen Sept. --."

I was just aiming at the jagged hole
Torn in the yellow sandbags of their trench,
When something threw me sideways with a wrench,
And the skies seemed to shrivel like a scroll
And disappear . . . and propped against the bole
Of a big elm I lay, and watched the clouds
Float through the blue, deep sky in speckless crowds,
And I was clean again, and young, and whole.

Lord, what a dream that was! And what a doze
Waiting for Bill to come along to class!
I've cut it now -- and he -- Oh, hello, Fred!
Why, what's the matter? -- here -- don't be an ass,
Sit down and tell me! -- What do you suppose?
I dreamed I . . . am I . . . wounded? "You are dead."
posted by maryr at 9:38 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Today is not about celebrating war or warriors.

Today is about remembering the cost of war.
posted by Argyle at 9:50 AM on November 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

A Dead Statesman

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

Rudyard Kipling
posted by Segundus at 9:53 AM on November 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

posted by immlass at 10:38 AM on November 11, 2012

The comments in this post are why I love Metafilter. Living in Canada, I always feel uncomfortable with everyone barking at me to thank the veterans "for my freedom". It seems to easy somehow. Sort of like being against smoking or drunk driving- it makes you feel good to raise your hand, with no thought required. I also hate how ALL wars are lumped in together today, and your support for soldiers is all-or-nothing. How one can equate terrified teens signing up for the World Wars (either due to pressure, conscription, or a desire to fight) with professional soldiers fighting in Afghanistan for debatable reasons is beyond me.

This rant aside, I like how many other commenters here have reminded me that the day can be what you want it to be. It certainly sounds like many (here, at least) use the day to think about the insanity of war and the terrible suffering of the fallen, and that war is something we should be ashamed of. I'll remember this approach for next year, and try to pass it on to my kids.

Oh, and Petrot- that image seriously made me tear up.
posted by Snubnose at 10:39 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find Veterans Day alienating. I know only a few veterans personally (who are still alive, that is -- all my male relatives were in the military at some point in their lives), and I would feel weird saying "thank you for your service" or whatever the phrase is we're supposed to use. I'm not even sure what we're thanking them for.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:49 AM on November 11, 2012

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.

Siegfried Sassoon
posted by Pendragon at 10:53 AM on November 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ladies and gentlemen, this is High Wood,
Called by the French, Bois des Fourneaux,
The famous spot which in Nineteen-Sixteen,
July, August and September was the scene
Of long and bitterly contested strife,
By reason of its High commanding site.
Observe the effect of shell-fire in the trees
Standing and fallen; here is wire; this trench
For months inhabited, twelve times changes hands;
(They soon fall in), used later as a grave.
It has been said on good authority
That in the fighting for this patch of wood
Were killed somewhere above eight thousand men,
Of whom the greater part were buried here,
This mound on which you stand being ...
Madame, please,

You are requested kindly not to touch
Or take away the Company's property
As souvenirs; you'll find we have on sale
A large variety, all guaranteed.
As I was saying, all is as it was,
This is an unknown British officer,
The tunic having lately rotten off.
Please follow me - this way ...
The path, sir, please,

The ground which was secured at great expense
The Company keeps absolutely untouched,
And in that dug-out (genuine) we provide
Refreshments at a reasonable rate.
You are requested not to leave about
Paper, or ginger-beer bottles, or orange-peel,
There are waste-paper baskets at the gate.


I went to Quaker Meeting today, and there was an hour of silence. It's not terribly unusual at my Meeting to not speak for the whole hour, but there was something more to it, today.
posted by kalimac at 10:55 AM on November 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

posted by mazola at 11:09 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

ee cummings
posted by Skot at 11:41 AM on November 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Scene: the summit of Achi Baba, an exposed spot, looking out across the Dardanelles towards Asia and the East. In a crevice between the rocks lie two graves covered by a single heap of stones. No monument marks them, for they escaped notice during the official survey, and the heap of stones has blended into the desolate and austere outline of the hill. The peninsula is turning towards the sun, and as the rays strike Achi Baba the graves begin to speak.

FIRST GRAVE: We are important again upon earth. Each morning men mention us.

SECOND GRAVE: Yes, after seven years' silence.

FIRST GRAVE: Every day some eminent public man now refers to the "sanctity of our graves in Gallipoli."

SECOND GRAVE: Why do the eminent men speak of "our" graves, as if they were themselves dead? It is we, not they, who lie on Achi Baba.

FIRST GRAVE: They say "our" out of geniality and in order to touch the great heart of our nation more quickly. Punch, the great-hearted jester, showed a picture lately in which the Prime Minister of England, Lloyd George, fertile in counsels, is urged to go to war to protect "the sanctity of our graves in Gallipoli." The elderly artist who designed that picture is not dead and does not mean to die. He hopes to illustrate this war as he did the last, for a sufficient salary. Nevertheless he writes "our" graves, as if he was inside one, and all persons of position now say the same.

SECOND GRAVE: If they go to war, there will be more graves.

FIRST GRAVE: That is what they desire. That is what Lloyd George, prudent in counsels, and lion-hearted Churchill, intend.

SECOND GRAVE: But where will they dig them?

FIRST GRAVE: There is still room over in Chanak. Also, it is well for a nation that would be great to scatter its graves all over the world. Graves in Ireland, graves in Irak, Russia, Persia, Inia, each with its inscription from the Bible or Rupert Brooke. When England thinks fit, she can launch an expedition to protect the sanctity of her graves, and can follow that by another expedition to protect the sanctity of the additional graves. That is what Lloyd George, prudent in counsels, and lion-hearted Churchill, have planned. Churchill planned this expedition to Gallipoli, where I was killed. He planned the expedition to Antwerp, where my brother was killed. Then he said that Labour is not fit to govern. Rolling his eyes for fresh worlds, he saw Egypt, and fearing that peace might be established there, he intervened and prevented it. Whatever he undertakes is a success. He is Churchill the Fortunate, ever in office, and clouds of dead heroes attend him. Nothing for schools, nothing for houses, nothing for the life of the body, nothing for the spirit. England cannot spare a penny for anything except her heroes' graves.

SECOND GRAVE: Is she really putting herself to so much expense on our account?

FIRST GRAVE: For us, and for the Freedom of the Straits. That water flowing below us now--it must be thoroughly free. What freedom is, great men are uncertain, but all agree that the water must be free for all nations; if in peace, then for all nations in peace; if in war, then for all nations in war.

SECOND GRAVE: So all nations now support England.

FIRST GRAVE: It is almost inexplicable. England stands alone. Of the dozens of nations into which the globe is divided, not a single one follows her banner, and even her own colonies hang back.

SECOND GRAVE: Yes... inexplicable. Perhaps she fights for some other reason.

FIRST GRAVE: Ah, the true reason of a war is never known until all who have fought in it are dead. In a hundred years' time we shall be told. Meanwhile seek not to inquire. There are rumours that rich men desire to be richer, but we cannot know.

SECOND GRAVE: If rich men desire more riches, let them fight. It is reasonable to fight for our desires.

FIRST GRAVE: But they cannot fight. They must not fight. There are too few of them. They would be killed. If a rich man went into the interior of Asia and tried to take more gold or more oil, he might be seriously injured at once. He must persuade poor men, who are numerous, to go there for him. And perhaps this is what Lloyd George, fertile in counsels, has decreed. He has tried to enter Asia by means of the Greeks. It was the Greeks who, seven years ago, failed to join England after they had promised to do so, and our graves in Gallipoli are the result of this. But Churchill the Fortunate, ever in office, ever magnanimous, bore the Greeks no grudge, and he and Lloyd George persuaded their young men to enter Asia. They have mostly been killed there, so English young men must be persuaded instead. A phrase must be thought of, and "the Gallipoli graves" is the handiest. The clergy must wave their Bibles, the old men their newspapers, the old women their knitting, the unmarried girls must wave white feathers, and all must shout, "Gallipoli graves, Gallipoli graves, Gallipoli, Gally Polly, Gally Polly," until the young men are ashamed and think, What sound can that be but my country's call? and Chanak receives them.

SECOND GRAVE: Chanak is to sanctify Gallipoli.

FIRST GRAVE: It will make our heap of stones for ever England, apparently.

SECOND GRAVE: It can scarcely do that to my portion of it. I was a Turk.

FIRST GRAVE: What! A Turk! You a Turk? And I have lain beside you for seven years and never known!

SECOND GRAVE: How should you have known? What is there to know except that I am your brother?

FIRST GRAVE: I am yours...

SECOND GRAVE: All is dead except that. All graves are one. It is their unity that sanctifies them, and some day even the living will learn this.

FIRST GRAVE: Ah, but why can they not learn it while they are still alive?

His comrade cannot answer this question. Achi Baba passes beneath the sun, and so long as there is light warlike preparations can be seen on the opposite coast. Presently all objects enter into their own shadows, and through the general veil thus formed the stars become apparent.

- E. M. Forster, "Our Graves in Gallipoli"
posted by kmz at 11:41 AM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

That "whole generation who were butchered and damned" left generations behind them, too. My great-grandfather, as so many others, was gassed in the very last days of the war (Meuse-Argonne). He died in a hospital in the desert when my father was a toddler. I'm sure Dad's life would have been very different, and mine, too, had he not been raised by a widow who became a nun to his father's memory. Little boys and girls should be raised by women or men, not by "pictures in brown leather frames". (NOT Willie McBrideist)
posted by cookie-k at 11:50 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Siegfried Sassoon

No doubt they'll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they're "longing to go out again,"--
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk,
They'll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,--
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they'll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter'd all their pride ...
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.
posted by iotic at 12:10 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

> >Flocks, not droves. Each callow bird came with his own white feather.

Not even just the callow. My (American) grandfather happened to be in Canada before the US got involved and was given one of these. Not sure if it had any effect on his entering.

(Other American grandfather, the pacifist, happened to be in Berlin in 1915, working with the Red Cross and POWs, to which end he was studying a bit of Russian. A patriot on a bus noticed the cyrillic script in a book he was reading and denounced him then and there and quite loudly as a spy. Happily, the bus conductor was a man of cooler temperament, escorted the fellow off and apologized to my grandfather. As far as I know, the feather thing never reached Germany. Strange times.)
posted by BWA at 12:44 PM on November 11, 2012

31. Repression of War Experience

Now light the candles; one; two; there’s a moth;
What silly beggars they are to blunder in
And scorch their wings with glory, liquid flame—
No, no, not that,—it’s bad to think of war,
When thoughts you’ve gagged all day come back to scare you;
And it’s been proved that soldiers don’t go mad
Unless they lose control of ugly thoughts
That drive them out to jabber among the trees.

Now light your pipe; look, what a steady hand.
Draw a deep breath; stop thinking; count fifteen,
And you’re as right as rain...
Why won’t it rain?...
I wish there’d be a thunder-storm to-night,
With bucketsful of water to sluice the dark,
And make the roses hang their dripping heads.
Books; what a jolly company they are,
Standing so quiet and patient on their shelves,
Dressed in dim brown, and black, and white, and green,
And every kind of colour. Which will you read?
Come on; O do read something; they’re so wise.
I tell you all the wisdom of the world
Is waiting for you on those shelves; and yet
You sit and gnaw your nails, and let your pipe out,
And listen to the silence: on the ceiling
There’s one big, dizzy moth that bumps and flutters;
And in the breathless air outside the house
The garden waits for something that delays.
There must be crowds of ghosts among the trees,—
Not people killed in battle,—they’re in France,—
But horrible shapes in shrouds—old men who died
Slow, natural deaths,—old men with ugly souls,
Who wore their bodies out with nasty sins.
. . . .

You’re quiet and peaceful, summering safe at home;
You’d never think there was a bloody war on!...
O yes, you would ... why, you can hear the guns.
Hark! Thud, thud, thud,—quite soft ... they never cease—
Those whispering guns—O Christ, I want to go out
And screech at them to stop—I’m going crazy;
I’m going stark, staring mad because of the guns.
posted by catlet at 1:30 PM on November 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I always feel uncomfortable with everyone barking at me to thank the veterans "for my freedom."

There is one odd sense in which every soldier fighting for a democratic country is fighting for freedom. Soldiers know better than most the cost of war, and are better trained than most to know when war is futile. Nevertheless, when ordered into pointless and futile wars, they go. The alternative is a coup d'etat. The bedrock of democracy is that the folks with the guns obey elected civilians.

American soldiers now fighting in Afghanistan know that our stated war aims are absurd, but there they are, in obedience to the democratic process. They are fighting for the freedom of Americans to vote for either of two cynical, ignorant warmongering parties, or perhaps to vote for something better if something better came along.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:26 PM on November 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

The fault lies not in our Bronze or Silver Stars but in ourselves.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:30 PM on November 11, 2012

Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.
posted by caphector at 3:44 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tell them in Sparta, passersby,
That following their orders, here we lie.
posted by John of Michigan at 3:46 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Retronaut has some pictures taken on 1918: Armistice Day.
posted by homunculus at 4:39 PM on November 11, 2012

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Covered with flowers every one
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

posted by Twang at 6:15 PM on November 11, 2012

Veterans Day. You may be surprised by what we remember.

The Hump had come and gone, and I was into my second tour, and we were back up on the Song Be again. I had killed them before, but I had never searched the body, I my job was to scurry across the KZ, point my weapon into the green darkness while trying to see through trees and clutter, and listen, while my brothers behind me go through bloody pockets for documents or maps, to find what they can find; usually diaries and pictures; PAVNs are great diarists. We take their weapons and ammo and leave their bodies on the trail for their fellows to find later, and bury. I know they do this because I have watched them. Contrary to the rumors, they seem to value human life.

This day, after all the noise and busy stuff, it was my turn. I rolled him over an looked into his face, and even though it so very obviously was impossible I had to keep swatting back the image that he would open his eyes and find me going through his pockets. My team leader on his knees a few feet away muttered for me to keep moving. All those weeks I had been a soldier doing remarkable and audacious things but now I was just a thief robbing this dead boy, my age, a boxer's shoulders, clean hands, well trimmed fingernails. He had walked six hundred miles and I had come from half the world away to meet here in this little clearing in an impossibly beautiful forest, and now I was stealing his wallet. Do you know?--sometimes they groan when you move them, but it doesn't mean anything.

Two weeks later my team leader caught a bullet in his knee and two more in his butt cheek. He didn't bleed much and we got mixed up on the surrettes and I think probably we gave him too many, because he was inappropriately laughing now and then as we hauled him to the edge of the clearing and set up to wait for the choppers. He went home, and I got a medal for it. Go figure.

A few months after that--this is where Veterans Day comes in. You see, I am a solid Scorpio--I went home on leave to Arizona, and I wanted to buy a pint of tequila to celebrate my birthday, but, see, I didn't turn 21 until the next day, and the guy wouldn't sell it to me, tells me the law is the law, and he ain't going to put his liquor license on the line for me. I get my friend's mother to buy it. She drops a five-dollar bill on the counter and tells him that she hopes he'll turn her in for giving liquor to a minor. What a deal.

I got drunk and went by myself to the movies. The Sound of Music. I still can't stand that goddam movie.
posted by mule98J at 8:03 PM on November 11, 2012 [13 favorites]

He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:25 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Man arrested after burning Poppy.
posted by Jehan at 7:51 AM on November 12, 2012

After some deaths in the family, my partner found a book containing his grandfather's letters home from WW1. We've been transcribing them onto the computer. He enlisted in 1916, was a driver for the Australian Medical Corps, spent much of the war around Armentieres and was invalided out when he was gassed.

We finished the letters on November 10. Yesterday I went through them and made notes on all the boys he mentions in passing who did not come home. Nine of them, mostly from Nyah, the tiny country town he came from; mostly farmers, fruit growers or farm labourers; one a doctor killed by a shell whilst in charge of a medical aid post.

His little comments on them are so poignant in retrospect; casual, cheerful things like "Roy sends his best wishes for a Happy Xmas, and you can tell Mrs Louttit from me that Roy is a “dinkum soldier” every inch of him." And then you discover that Roy and his two brothers were all killed, one at Gallipoli, two on the Western Front.

I found tributes to many of them in their local paper of the time, like this one for the rather handsome Val Foster:

He enlisted a little over twelve months ago, having previously been rejected twice because of a slight physical defect. Previous to enlisting he was a most energetic worker in all patriotic efforts, and was untiring in his work on behalf of the men who had gone to the front. All his spare time was devoted to doing things on behalf of the soldiers. In fact, Val Foster had no spare time. He organised working bees on the orchard blocks belonging to men who were on active service, and every soldier who went from Nyah carried to his comrades at the front stories of what Val Foster was doing for them, earning for him the undying gratitude of Nyah soldiers and their dependents. He was not satisfied with that, however, but on every possible occasion tried to get away to join them. At last he was accepted, and ended a life of usefulness on the battlefields of Flanders.

"Ended a life of usefulness on the battlefields of Flanders" says it all. It's just so unbelievably sad and pointless.
posted by andraste at 3:16 AM on November 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

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