Sunday, 9 November 2008

Only the monstrous anger of the guns



One of these men could be my grandfather; he fought on the Somme in 1916 with the Royal Irish Rifles, some of whom are pictured here. He came back, and had a son. That son, my father, became a professional soldier for twenty-five years, landing in Normandy at dawn on D-Day, wounded by shrapnel, returning to fight through to the Northern German plain. Then Palestine. Then Korea. Then Cyprus.

They were both men who faced the monstrous anger of the guns, and it was their bravery and that of all those who stood beside them that have ensured that I have never been called upon to do so.

We must speak for the dead that are buried so thickly in Flanders, and in clumps across the globe, that have left no sons or grandsons to do so. And remember always that our freedom and our precious realm are prizes that cost an agony of suffering to win and hold.
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

2 comments:

Sabretache said...

My maternal grandfather was blinded at Passhendaele - at the age of 24. My father was part of the expeditionary force that was evacuated from Dunkirk and spent much of the rest of WW2 in North Africa, returning apparently unscathed, but with deep mental scars. My best man was killed in the Falklands war. I hold their memory dear but I guess we all have our own take on the meaning of remembrance for our war dead.

"And remember always that our freedom and our precious realm are prizes that cost an agony of suffering to win and hold.

Our wars did (and do) 'cost an agony of suffering' but I find myself far less in thrall to their 'nobility of purpose' than that. In a measure for too large for trite expressions of what our debt of gratitude ought to be, they were and are manifestations of the gross, pompous, blind, stupid, failures of leadership - and very especially so in the first WW.

So, no flag-waving for me. I don't 'wear my poppy with pride', I wear it with dispair and a lump in my throat at the futiliy of war; and with simmering anger at the stupidity of those who cheer-lead for it. The Wilfred Owen piece is indeed poignant but this little known - and politically incorrect - piece by Siegfried Sasson gets closer to the meaning of rememberance Sunday for me:

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.

Anonymous said...

"And remember always that our freedom and our precious realm are prizes that cost an agony of suffering to win and hold. "

Prizes which we are now too lethargic to defend and which are being salami-sliced away bit by bit.