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Lest we forget

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Shrouds of the Somme

What a powerful act of remembrance. If i were in the UK, I’d definitely see this. Let us remember our dead, let us remember our dead, let us carry them with us always in heart, mind, and spirit. May our fallen warriors be honored and may they find peace. 

KrasskovaGalina doughboy

 

(my image of the WWI memorial statue in Rhinebeck, NY)

A Neat Ancestor Find

Part of my work spiritually, as an ancestor worker, involves honoring not just my own ancestors but several specific groups of the dead. One of those is the military dead. I maintain an extensive shrine to them at which I make regular offerings and I’ve gone on pilgrimage to honor them several times. I also keep an eye out for things that they may like, at flea markets, at antique stores, and so forth. While I was at Villanova last week participating in a theology conference, I took some time out to do a bit of antiquing. I was traveling with my friend Allen, who has a real gift for finding just the right thing that one might want or need (he’s really amazing at it). As we were hunting around one store, he picked up this bright, brass box and showed it to me. I was quite taken with it immediately and thought it might be Trench Art from WWI. When I spoke with the proprietor I found out that it wasn’t, instead it was a Mary Box.

cig box closed

In the last year of WWI, Britain’s princess Mary raised money on her own to create and send these boxes to every single soldier serving in the British forces, from highest to lowest (officers received silver boxes, enlisted brass). They were typically filled with tobacco or sometimes, if the soldier wasn’t a smoker, candy and sweets. They’re rarely in such good condition, because they were carried and used by these men. I was really, really lucky to find one – thanks to my friend Allen – in pristine condition. Of course, I bought it.

cig box open

I decided that I would dedicate it to the military dead and use it as my cigarette case. That way, every time I smoke, I would be making an offering to them. So far, it’s been working beautifully and every time I hold it or open it, I’m reminded to give thanks for them, and to reach out to them, pray to and for them. Such a small thing has made me more intensely mindful and I am grateful. Most of all, I’m grateful that the Gods have guided me wisely in this practice of honoring this group of dead. May I learn from them and may I honor them well.

 

 

 

One of my favorite WWI poems

DULCE ET DECORUM EST(1)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares(2) we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest(3) 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(4)
Of tired, outstripped(5) Five-Nines(6) that dropped behind.
Gas!(7) Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets(8) just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime(9) . . .
Dim, through the misty panes(10) 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,(11) 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(12)
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest(13)
To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.(15)

Wilfred Owen
Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917 and March, 1918

Notes on Dulce et Decorum Est
1. DULCE ET DECORUM EST – the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean “It is sweet and right.” The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country.

2. Flares – rockets which were sent up to burn with a brilliant glare to light up men and other targets in the area between the front lines (See illustration, page 118 of Out in the Dark.)

3. Distant rest – a camp away from the front line where exhausted soldiers might rest for a few days, or longer

4. Hoots – the noise made by the shells rushing through the air

5. Outstripped – outpaced, the soldiers have struggled beyond the reach of these shells which are now falling behind them as they struggle away from the scene of battle

6. Five-Nines – 5.9 calibre explosive shells

7. Gas! – poison gas. From the symptoms it would appear to be chlorine or phosgene gas. The filling of the lungs with fluid had the same effects as when a person drowned

8. Helmets – the early name for gas masks

9. Lime – a white chalky substance which can burn live tissue

10. Panes – the glass in the eyepieces of the gas masks

11. Guttering – Owen probably meant flickering out like a candle or gurgling like water draining down a gutter, referring to the sounds in the throat of the choking man, or it might be a sound partly like stuttering and partly like gurgling

12. Cud – normally the regurgitated grass that cows chew usually green and bubbling. Here a similar looking material was issuing from the soldier’s mouth

13. High zest – idealistic enthusiasm, keenly believing in the rightness of the idea

14. ardent – keen

15. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – see note 1 above.

These notes are taken from the book, Out in the Dark, Poetry of the First World War, where other war poems that need special explanations are similarly annotated. The ideal book for students getting to grips with the poetry of the First World War.

 

Taken from this site.

Every One Remembered

I’ve been consistently impressed with the work of the British Legion, both in furthering remembrance of those who died in WWI and in providing for current veterans. One of the ongoing projects they have is “Every One Remembered,” which allows contributors to learn about a particular soldier, nurse, or other combatant from WWI, contribute to various programs, and set up digital memorials. I get lost in this site way too often and way too much, but if you’re wondering where to start in honoring the military dead, I think this is a good place to go. Here is the link to that site and here is the link to their poppy shop. 

I have heard Pagans say “that which is remembered lives” and there is truth in this. We should carry our dead with us, tell their stories, learn from them. WWI has passed out of living memory (in that we have almost no one who lived through it or fought in it currently alive) and WWII will, within a few years, a decade at most likewise no longer rest in living memory. I think this is a very dangerous place for us to be. I think we need to carry the weight of that remembrance, to carry the grief, the horror, the hope, the humility of two wars that effectively destroyed our world. It’s dangerous to forget, a grace and protection to remember. 

red poppies

The Origins of WWI

This is an excellent and entertaining series about WWI. November 11, Armistice Day, Veteran’s Day, Remembrance Day was instituted originally to honor those who served in WWI. This war changed the face of our world. It was a Ragnarok of sorts. Now, it’s pretty much no longer in living memory (that is, there are no more, or very few WWI veterans still a live. There are few people who lived through that war even as civilians still alive). WWII is also rapidly moving out of living memory with our veterans dying off and I think this is a very dangerous point at which to be. We need to remember these wars and the devastation they caused. The world as it was before them ceased to exist. We have been shaped by that devastation and not, I think for the better. 

Anyway, this is a good series on the origins of WWI. All the parts can be accessed on youtube. Check it out. 

Remembrance

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Today I honor all those who died in our wars. I honor all those who died in WWI. I honor especially, my first cousin twice removed Private Wesley Heffner who fought with Pershing’s First expeditionary Force. He wasn’t drafted: he enlisted. He wanted to be a good man. He was proud of being an American and wanted to bring freedom–he thought that was what being an American was about: fighting wrong and standing for liberty. He died in France in 1918. He never made it home. 

 

“Carry the dead with us. Carry the dead. Never not carry them,
never not act in their name.

Carry the dead in our dreams, all the great deeds; carry the dead in our days,
all the great deeds.

Morning, morning. Let there be their light.

What they would want, what they would ask of us, carry them with us,
never not bring them along.

Never for nothing their brutal departures. Never let justice go lonely.

Morning. Morning.

Ever the heart, ever the spirit, ever the longing. . Earth is not past,
not a ghost, not lost to us.

Ever the believing.
(“Credo Coda,” Michael Dennis Browne)

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?

 

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

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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.