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Poppy_wreath_stockwellIn 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

 

Most, if not all of you know that I am a Yank. Actually, I’m a rather patriotic, conservative one with a bent for military history. In the States this weekend we are observing Veterans Day, it is the day we thank our living veterans and serving service people. Your Remembrance Day is analogous to our Memorial Day which is 30 May. The short form is that it comes from Decoration Day, which in our history was the day on which the veterans of The Grand Army of the Republic decorated the graves of the veterans of our Civil War, it now honors all of our war dead. So for us, Veterans Day honors the living, although if we’re completely honest, both days honor both in the public’s mind.

But, we here in the Great Republic are aware that in the last hundred years we have never fought alone, we have, in all our wars (yes, even Vietnam, Thank You Australia) fought beside at least one other member or former member of the British Empire. In most, we have fought together with all of you. And we have been very proud to do so.

I also remember that during the Falklands, that while our government did not feel able to overtly help, for mostly political reasons, the American people, from the President on down, were cheering for you. You guys weren’t the only ones who watched the fleet sail with a tear in your eyes. And if it had been necessary, one of our light carriers, the Iwo Jima, which happened to be in refit, was being readied to be transferred to the Royal Navy. It was your war, as Vietnam was ours, but we know who our friends are.

An aside to our American readers, 10 November marked, with Pomp and Circumstance (and dancing, and a fair amount of alcohol) an event that occurred 241 years ago in Dun’s tavern in Philadelphia: the birth of those guys that Kaiser Bill called Teufel Hunden, the US Marine Corps. Ever since it has lived up to its motto of Semper Fidelis.

Most of us here have written something about Remembrance Day: Chalcedon here, Jessica here,  and I did here, I’m pretty sure Geoffrey has talked about it a bit as well, but I’m darned if I can find it. I think in many ways, we said most of what there is to say.

One lesson we learned from Vietnam, is to honor in all ways and at all times our veterans, and from what I read, it may be a lesson that you have in some measure forgotten, whatever the politics of the war, it was not the fault of the soldiers, no soldier has ever wanted a war. In fact, since we don’t think our government does a good enough job of taking care of ours, we have many volunteer organizations that help them as well.  Always remember them, they gave their lives willingly for your freedom.

As Americans we are proud that we were able to help defend you, during the Cold War, as the saying went, the Eastern border of the United States was the Elbe River. We meant it and the Soviets knew we meant it, and so we won. It was long, it was very costly, it was boring, it was terrifying, it was many things, it was also our privilege and our duty. But for you in Britain, it was also the repayment of a debt we owed you. We remember that during the nineteenth century, while we were busy building America (with not a few British ideas, and a lot of British capital, as well) we had proclaimed that new European colonies would not be permitted in the New World. We knew perfectly well that we were completely unable to enforce that, we also knew that Britain, for its own reasons (mostly trade) would.

We are also aware that Britain, and especially the Royal Navy was the major force that ended chattel slavery in western civilization. Sometimes we think you forget how good you have been for the world. Eventually, more than 600,000 Americans would die to end slavery here, and it was worth it, as were your efforts. And that doesn’t even touch upon the longest period of (mostly) peace between major powers, which has come to be called justifiably The Pax Brittanica. Your history in the modern world is something to be very proud of, and we, the rowdy colonials who fought a war against you to preserve our rights as Englishmen, salute you.

You are commemorating the centennial of the Great War as are we. We and the Canadians have celebrated the bicentennial of the War of 1812. It was sort of a silly war, and essentially ended status quo ante but it has echoed down 200 years of North American history because it was the making of two nations, Canada, and the United States. It is quite often referred to here as the Second War of Independence because it unified us, as it did the Canadians. The other thing it did was allow us to train up a military which would grow to become world class. We knew we were on the way when in 1814, our soldiers were able to stand toe to toe with the best in the world: The British regulars. Of course, you went on and burned Washington (Many of us wouldn’t mind much if you did it again). Nor was that the last time British troops paraded in Washington under arms. That was fifty-three years ago this month when a detachment of the Black Watch was included in President Kennedy’s funeral procession to Arlington.

But what I really wanted to talk about today are two men, both veterans of the Great War, who both won the American Medal of Honor and one the Victoria Cross as well. Both were posthumous. In fact, they were both awarded in the fall of 1921. One was a soldier of the empire, and one was an American doughboy. This is the story of the British recipient.

FROM THE LONDON TIMES of OCT. 18, 1921

Yesterday morning General Pershing laid the Congressional Medal of Honour on the grave of the Unknown British Warrior in Westminster Abbey. The simple and beautiful ceremony seemed full of the promise of new and happier times. And what we call Nature appeared to have laid her approval on the hopes that it aroused.

But I have written about this before, and you can read it here. Today let us have a different perspective from the day.

A WOMAN’S TRIBUTE

The Message of the Double Line of Khaki; From the London Times, October 18, 1921

In Westminster Abbey, yesterday, General Pershing laid the American Medal of Honour upon the grave of the Unknown Soldier of Britain. The bright sunlight streamed through the high stained-glass windows in long shafts of light that fell warm upon the grey stone of the Gothic arches, upon the quiet people in the Nave, and around the flower-strewn tomb, and that lay in a cloth of scarlet on the flag above the body of the Unknown Dead.

A thousand years of great history stood silent within those old walls. Close by are the tombs of Norman, Plantagenet, Tudor, and Stuart Kings and Queens, of the priests, and soldiers and the sailors, of the poets and statesmen that have made England great.

As the organ filled the sunlit spaces of the ancient church with its deep volume of sound, there marched up the aisle, with bared heads, a detachment of British soldiers from the Guard’s regiments. As they formed a line facing the centre, an equal number of American soldiers, bare-headed, marched up the other side, and turning, stood facing the British soldiers across the narrow aisle.

Both lines of khaki, both lines of straight and young and clear-eyed boys, both lines of men of Anglo-Saxon blood, of the same standards and of the same ideals they stood there in the sunlight in that shrine of a thousand years of memory, looking straight into each other’s eyes.

Between them, up the aisle, marched the choir in their scarlet vestments with their bright cross on high, the generals, the admirals, and the Ministers of the Empire, and the Ambassador and the Commanding General of the Great Republic but in all that they represented, and in all that was said in the ceremonies that followed, there was no such potent symbol as those two lines of khaki- clad boys, with the sun shining on their bared heads, their brave young faces, and their strong young bodies, looking each other straight in the face.Between them lay, not the narrow aisle, but a thousand leagues of sea, the building of a new world, the birth of a new destiny for man. But as they stood there where they could have touched hands in the old Abbey which was a shrine for their common ancestors, they were so amazingly alike in bearing and appearance that they ceased to be a detachment of soldiers from two different countries, and they became a symbol of the illimitable potentiality of a common heritage that heritage of which the ancient Abbey was a shrine the heritage of the ideals of freedom, of order, of self-discipline, of self-respect.

If any words spoken in the Abbey could have conveyed a hundredth part of what that double line of clear- eyed boys said in utter silence the world would have been a happier place to-day. The old strength and the new force of a common heritage stood in khaki in the aisle of Westminster Abbey bare-headed, to honour the symbol of supreme sacrifice to those ideals in the Cross of Christ and in the body of an Unknown Soldier.

The service included this.

It has been a very long century since that last quiet August weekend of the Edwardian Age. It has been filled far too often with the roar of the guns, and the rattle of musketry followed by the sounding of the Last Post. But the mission has been maintained, it will never be won, although we can and should pray that it will be less horrific going forward. But all around the world, freedom-loving people have learned of the steadfast valor even unto death of English-speaking soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. We are proud of our part, yes. But we are equally proud to be your allies and friends.

Has it been worth it? The citizen of Ypres, Belgium seem to think so. Every night at 8:00pm since 2 July 1928, except during the German occupation in World War II, they have executed this ceremony, and when the Polish forces liberated them in 1944, they resumed, while heavy fighting was still going on in the city. While under occupation in World War II the ceremony took place at Brookwood Military Cemetery, in Surrey, England.

Every night

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, 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 contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon

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