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In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae, May 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.

lest-we-forget

Thank you for your service

Hail to our Fallen

A Month of Reverence

November for me is a month of remembrance, specifically remembrance of our military dead. It’s Odin’s month, and it’s also the month in which we celebrate armistice/veterans day (Nov. 11). This year, we’re in the hundredth anniversary of WWI, and I have been feeling the WWI dead very, very strongly. This year as in years past, I intend to post something in honor of the military dead every day throughout November, sometimes simply a memorial poppy photo, sometimes more. May those who fought and those who died be remembered.

Today I”ll begin with a very well known WWI poem, by Laurence Binyon. This poem is famous and has been used by the British Royal Legion as an exhortation to remembrance. It’s a good place to begin. 

For the Fallen
by R.L. Binyon

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 condemn.
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.

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Today is also the anniversary of my late father’s birthday. He was a career soldier, serving in WWII and Korea, and later working in ordinance at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He was born Nov. 1, 1917 and died in 2005. He lived a good and honorable life. May he be remembered by those who knew him and celebrated by his ancestors. Hail John Paul Dabravalskas, son of Ursula Blasis and Karolys Dabravalskas. Happy Birthday!

dad-wwii

I’m back from a small ancestral pilgrimage

I’ve been on an ancestral pilgrimage since thursday. It’s been an amazing experience and more productive than I ever dreamed. I’ve written about it here and here.  I’ve a few other updates to make as well but they will have to wait until later this week. I’m just wiped out. 

Here is one though that I’ll share now in closing. The newest prayer card is by Grace Palmer and for Narvi and Vali. It’s based on art she did for my adopted mom. It’ll be available very soon. That is all.

narvi-and-vali2x4

 

Private Wesley Heffner – in Uniform

I found what is perhaps the only extant picture of my second great uncle Private S. Wesley Heffner. He died of wounds in WWI. A distant relative and genealogist (and all around god-send!) suggested a book by Hill, et al titled “York County in the World War” and it had photos of nearly ever soldier from the county killed. Wesley was one of them. I’ll be visiting his grave this week.

Processed with Snapseed.

Processed with Snapseed.

One of the Fallen

Every so often I return to genealogy research. I have to be careful – I can get sucked down the genealogy whirlpool for hours and hours or even days if I’m not careful. Ancestry.com recently partnered with Fold3.com which allows one to search military records and somewhere in a couple of hours of random searching, I discovered that my great grandmother’s nephew had fought and died in WWI.

I don’t know much about him. I’ve got queries out to Heffner genealogists but I’ve made a complete hash of my ancestry.com chart (I was tired one night and merged information for him, his father, and another John Wesley Heffner so now I need to go sort through all the documents and sort it out, a task I’m not looking forward to doing), but here’s what I know.

Wesley Heffner was born on April 30, 1898 in Chanceford Township, PA. He was the son of Amos Heffner and his wife Lottie Ardella (“Della”) Heffner nee Welsh.

He served in Hoboken and was fighting in France from June 14, 1917 to June 5, 1918 — according to his mother’s application for a military pension (apparently if a young man was unmarried, their mothers could apply for a pension at that time, or at least so it seems) and went overseas with Pershing’s first contingent. He was a private first class in Company B, 26th Infantry. He did not come home again.

I have so many questions, so many things that I would like to know about him. Is he buried in France where he died or is he buried here in the states and if so, where? Are there any extant photos? What made him enlist?

When Pershing’s forces first went over it was standard operating procedure to bury the soldiers in the land where they fell. This didn’t sit well with the folks back home and pressure was put on the military to bring their sons back. In an article that made me cry, about WWI, burying our dead, and bringing them home again we’re given a vivid picture of General Pershing facing the atrocious body count of that ‘great’ war:

“THE GENERAL WEPT when he heard the news. About 3 a.m. on November 3, 1917, German troops overran an isolated Allied outpost near Verdun, killing three men from the 16th Infantry who had slipped into the trenches for their combat debut only hours before. These were the first of Jack Pershing’s men to die in the Great War. One was shot between the eyes; another had his skull smashed. The third was found face down, his throat cut. All three were buried near where they had died, amid the beautiful rolling hills of northeastern France. This was as it should be, General Pershing believed. There was no time to bring fallen soldiers back to the States, he said, nor any space on ships crossing the Atlantic. And he couldn’t bear to think of mothers opening caskets to see their boys ravaged by the fearsome new weapons of the industrial era. Within days, however, the War Department discovered that the families and friends of the dead thought differently. Letters and telegrams arrived in Washington asking when the soldiers’ remains would be shipped home. Grand funerals were planned. No matter that the men had died an ocean away or that the war was still going on. Bring them home. This was a refrain Pershing and the military establishment would hear for the rest of the war, indeed, for years afterward. History had given the American people definite ideas about what to do with the war dead. And they weren’t to be denied.”

Read the full article here

Bring them home. I would like to know if my great great uncle was ever brought home.

There is so much I don’t know but at least I have a name. At least I know he exists and I know he fought and I know that he died somewhere on a bloody field in France. It’s a start. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

Processed with Snapseed.

 

Edit: before I posted this, I actually found a picture of his grave. My great great uncle is buried in Chanceford Township, PA, in St. Luke’s Lutheran Cemetery. I will have a chance to visit his grave, and that of his parents when next I go down to MD. I’ll make a detour to PA. This doesn’t necessarily mean that his body is there – it could have been just a grave with the body actually buried in a field in France, but all things considered, and given what I know of my family, I think it’s safe to assume that it’s his actual in situ grave. I wonder now whether he was shipped back immediately or only after the war…and what it must have been like for his family, first to receive notification of his death (sent to his father Amos) and then his body. How was he remembered by his brothers and sisters (he had 14 siblings) and what stories might they have told?

 

Autumn Approaches

Autumn is thankfully fast approaching and already it feels like there is so much to do to get ready for what is, for me, a very important time spiritually. (I also loathe summer with a passion so I’m always glad when it’s over). Starting with the fall equinox, I begin a rather intense ritual season. While I honor my ancestors all year round, as autumn approaches suddenly it seems like they are very, very present and my whole world becomes about them, the military dead, and Odin pretty much through the new year. The Hunt comes after all, as the weather turns (please Gods) chill, and scours the world for wondering or maybe wandering souls (1.).

This year it has begun so much earlier than normal. For about two weeks now, the military dead have been close. My own ancestors have stepped back to allow this particular group to press forward with their voices eager to be heard. I do not know what they want this time, beyond the offerings I normally give, beyond giving them a voice as best I know how in my work. This time it is the WWI dead and they began to make their presence known two weeks ago. I started waking from dreams of hell in the trenches, half-remembered images of experiences that are not mine. These images like shadows haunt my waking hours and suddenly references to that war seem everywhere. There’s a growing sense of them ever more palpable and they whisper around me and it’s started so early this year. Usually this doesn’t happen for at least another month but now, now since July they’ve been with me, a growing presence.

There are a few stragglers from WWII, a handful from Vietnam but for the most part it’s WWI dead. The ‘war to end all wars,’ which didn’t, this war that destroyed the world, ending in reality only twenty seven years later with the decimation of Europe and Japan. They come to me, the dead, and I walk with them. I hold rituals and make offerings to them. This time the press is so very strong and I do not know what they want, and rituals previously held have no power now to stem the tide of remembrance. Perhaps that is what this autumn will bring: new ways of remembering, of carrying their memories forward, the screaming of those who died choking in the trenches or returned home carrying hell within as we send generation after generation off to die. They were haunted by the war and I am haunted by them. There is no one left living (to my knowledge) who shared their experience. World War I has passed out of living memory and we are, I believe, the worse for that.

If you can, go talk to the veterans in your family. Record their stories. Buy them coffee. Listen. Listen to the weight they carry and the dead that walk with them too. See if there’s anything you can do to help your local VFW.(2) Go and learn their stories. Remember. That is, I think what they want and why they come shrieking forward so powerfully now. Remember. We are a world tumbling forward into exactly the same type of hellish morass that so many of them found themselves catapulted into in 1914. I think that is why they are now so loud.

 

  1. I’ve always been intensely amused by the folklore that says that to ward off the Wild Hunt, wave a sprig of parsley at the leader’s horse. I have this image of some poor fool standing in a field, eyes closed, holding out a piece of garnish as though it were a cross to repel a vampire. LOL.
  2. The British Royal Legion has a program I very much support called Every Man Remembered. It allows you to personally commemorate a WWI soldier and at the same time help living veterans. They also record their stories.

(Photo below, titled “Doughboy” is my own.)

KrasskovaGalina doughboy

Some Info on WWI

We are currently in the 100th year anniversary of WWI, a war that I think often gets forgotten in the wake of the horrors of WWII. I recently read a couple of things that showed me exactly how little knowledge there is not only of this war, but of history in general. I thought it might be helpful to post a couple of simple, straightforward videos on the origins of WWI. These are not painful to watch and in fact are actually quite entertaining. Maybe it will help increase readers’ knowledge base. I agree with the narrator of one of these videos: WWI was the seminal event of the 20th century. We should know what caused it and what happened.

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Here’s a discussion (quite an entertaining one no less) on factors that led to the start of WWI:

Here’s another (love this series):

(There’s one error: it wasn’t Alexander the II who was forced to accept an impotent parliament, it was Nicholas the II. I think it was just a slip of the tongue on the narrator’s part. The creators of the cartoons own up to errata here and also provide interesting and random facts that didn’t make it into the main videos. I particularly like the conclusion he comes to at the very end. Watch all the other videos first though before watching this one.: ).

Here’s part II:

and part III (they’re very short):

and the final part IV:

I particularly like the second video in that it points to the long range, inter-generational impact of WWI – not just that it led to WWII, but that the entire face of the 20th century up to and including our generation would likely have been completely different but for this war. It changed everything.

Remembering the Somme

poppy-wars-remembrance-history-839-body-image-1447181947

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest engagements of WWI. Over nineteen thousand soldiers died on the first day alone and the battle raged from July 1 to November 18, 1916. It was the largest battle of WWI. Over a million people died making it also one of the bloodiest battles in human history. 

I think we often forget about this war – once called ‘the War to End All Wars’ in light of the horrific war that followed twenty years later. It’s easy to forget the impact the First World War had on society – it ended the world as people knew it, transformed the face of Europe, transformed social relations (not necessarily for the better), changed the position of women, revolutionized warfare, and set the stage for the second world war. It also wiped out a generation of young men and some women (I’m reading a wonderful book right now called “Female Tommies” by E. Shipton that discusses the role of women in WWI, including women who actually saw combat).

I am struck as well by the fact that it’s no longer in our living memory. I believe the last (or one of the very last) veterans of this war died in 2012 at something like 110 years old. It has passed out of living memory and that seems to be both a powerful moment and a dangerous one: powerful because the duty of remembrance passes more forcefully to us, that those who died might not have died in vain and that we may learn and remember, remember and learn and do our damndest to prevent such senseless loss of life again (we’re not doing the best job of that, I fear) and dangerous because since it is not in living memory, it’s far too easy for its impact to be downplayed, and its sacrifices…forgotten.

I wasn’t able to post anything yesterday as I normally would have done, but I did leave memorial tokens about – yet another “glamour bomb” urging remembrance of both this battle, the war itself, and most especially those who fought in it. I scattered them across three towns. Today, a friend sent me a couple of links highlighting other memorials for the dead and I’ll share those with you here.

A theatre troupe across the UK created a living memorial:

“The powerful scenes of the young men standing en masse during rush hour at UK’s busiest thoroughfares provided a poignant reminder of the scale of human suffering experienced by so many, 100 years ago today.”

Read the whole article here.  See more at the official site here

In Exeter, the first day of the battle was marked by figurines laid out to represent the nearly twenty thousand dead on that July 1 so long ago.

“The figurines, each clad in a hand-made calico shroud, mark the anniversary of the start of the battle 100 years ago. They were placed on the grass next to the World War One memorial in Exeter, by artist Rob Heard. The artwork was opened at 07:30 BST, the exact time the whistle was blown 100 years ago for the battle’s start.”

Read more here

Then there is the Every Man Remembered Project run by the British Royal Legion which allows one to commemorate individual soldiers who died in WWI. You can commemorate, place a poppy on a map to mark their passing and, if you wish, donate to the Legion for specific causes. It’s a powerful and beautiful memorial and there are many personal accounts posted by those who’ve chosen to become involved. It costs nothing to commemorate and that can be done here

The legion is also selling gold poppy lapel pins, made from melted down shell casings found at the Somme, with soil from the battlefield mixed into the paint, the proceeds of which go to help veterans of today’s wars. Read more on that here

I’m glad to note that the US will be getting its own WWI memorial soon. Those interested can learn more about that here and donate toward the memorial if so moved. 

For the Fallen

Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914.

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 condemn.
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.