Smorgasbord Poetry Remembrance – The War Poets – Edmund Blunden


This time of year, I like to re-post the series The War Poets. Just some of the men and women who served on the front line on all sides of the conflict who fought, died or returned scarred by their experiences.

They are going out at 4.a.m each morning my time, which is the coldest before the dawn, and as they would have woken in the trenches to prepare for another day of horror, bravery and sacrifice.

I would never glorify war – I see it as greed and a failure of diplomacy. Someone wants power, land, money, oil, mineral wealth etc and is unwilling to compromise or listen to reason and chooses to just take it. When diplomacy fails as it often does, those that are forced to defend their rights or territory turn to their young men and in modern times, women to fight the good fight. It never seems to end, which is why reminding ourselves from time to time about their sacrifice is both respectful and hopefully a thought provoking exercise.

As the war poet today describes – war does not end for those who have fought when a treaty has been signed; it will continue in their lives forever.

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Edmund Blunden was a poet, literary editor, journalist, biographer and lecturer, travelling and teaching in England, Japan and Hong Kong. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in 1966. He died in 1974 aged 78 having left behind an incredible legacy of work that in my mind is one of the most vivid recollections of the First World War.

He was studying Classics at Queen’s College Oxford but like so many of his age, he abandoned academic life in 1915 and joined the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment. He saw active service almost immediately at Givenchy and later at the Somme. He won the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry in action’ after a near suicidal mission under enemy shelling. From late 1916 he was with the regiment in Ypres until January 1918 when they returned to the Somme.

The two poems I have chosen are very different. The first At Sawnlees Once’ is poignant as it describes a brief moment of respite from the chaos. A barn on a farm where women are working and all appears normal. An oasis of crops and chickens and a simple barn where safety and a chance to forget the war for a few brief hours was so precious.

At Sawnlees Once

How comely it was and how reviving,
When with clay and with death no longer striving
Down firm roads we came to houses
With women chattering and green grass thriving.

Now though rains in a cataract descended,
We could glow, with our tribulation ended–
Count not days, the present only
Was thought of, how could it ever be expended?

Clad so cleanly, this remnant of poor wretches
Picked up life like the hens in orchard ditches,
Gazed on the mill-sails, heard the church-bell,
Found an honest glass all manner of riches.

How they crowded the barn with lusty laughter,
Hailed the Pierrots and shook each shadowy rafter,
Even could ridicule their own sufferings,
Sang as though nothing but joy came after!

The second poem ‘Can you Remember’ is after the war – not written until 1928 when it was only becoming clear the long term effect those devastating years had on the young men of all nations who fought and survived. It is clear that for the vast majority, the war did not end, but remained in their minds and hearts their whole lives.

Can You Remember?

Yes, I still remember
The whole thing in a way;
Edge and exactitude
Depend upon the day.

Of all that prodigious scene
There seems scanty loss,
Though mists mainly float and screen
Canal, spire and fosse;

Though commonly I fail to name
That once obvious Hill,
And where we went, and whence we came
To be killed, or kill.

Those mists are spiritual
And luminous-obscure,
Evolved of countless circumstance
Of which I am sure;

Of which, at the instance
Of sound, smell, change and stir,
New-old shapes for ever
Intensely recur.

And some are sparkling, laughing, singing,
Young, heroic, mild;
And some incurable, twisted,
Shrieking, dumb, defiled.

Buy Edmund Blunden: http://www.amazon.com/Edmund-Blunden/e/B001HPMRXA

 

Thank you for dropping in and your feedback is always welcome. Sally

Inspiring beings – Animals who serve


Today as we remember the millions who have died in conflict it is also time to remember the hundreds of thousands of animals who have played their role. Horses in the First World War pulling munitions and taking the wounded from the frontline, Pigeons carrying vital messages across enemy lines and dogs who still play such a vital role today.

Smorgasbord Short Story – A Soldier Waits – Sally Cronin


 

A Soldier Waits – Sally Cronin

David stood beside his comrades as they waited in the village square for the parade to begin. Despite their advancing years, the men stood as tall as possible, often with the aid of a stick. Two of their number were in wheelchairs, and had been guided across the cobble stones by their fellow old soldiers.

It was a typical chilly November morning with dark skies and clouds laden with imminent rain. Whilst inappropriate perhaps for this solemn occasion, the men standing huddled against the cold wind; wished for a few rays of sunshine. Their overcoats were shiny with age but their shoes were burnished to a brilliance thanks to the loving attention the night before. A reminder of a time, when the action of rubbing in polish and then shining the boots for the sergeant’s approval, was used for reflection. A time to remember all the nights many years ago, when comrades would sit on camp beds talking quietly as they prepared their kit for inspection and parades.

Beribboned pins, holding silver and bronze medals, lay proudly against the material on their chests and nobody really noticed the frayed cuffs that peeked out from the sleeves of the worn coats. Their pride was clear to see by all who passed; many of whom smiled in recognition or tipped a hat. They were the old soldiers and heroes of the village and despite their dwindling numbers were respected and honoured. Not just today, but every time they were met in the shops and lanes of this small community that had given up so many of its young men to war.

David didn’t feel the cold and felt content to be part of the camaraderie and fellowship of being amongst those he had served with. He caught little snippets of conversation as he stood, head bowed waiting for the order to form into the parade.

‘My Elsie has had another grandson… Who would have thought it…? I’m a great granddad….’

‘That new doctor looks like he’s just left school… Told me that I had something called heemaroids… Used to call them bloody piles in my day…’

‘I’m sorry that Jack didn’t make it this year… Miss the old codger… We will have to find a replacement for the cribbage night…’

David smiled as he listened to his friends talking about their lives and raised his head as he heard the sound of the local brass band strike up.

He had been part of this ceremony for the last fifty years since the squire had erected the memorial in the centre of the village. Lord Roberts was a good man and had been devastated by the loss of his own son in the last few weeks of the war. Out of respect and loyalty to those other families in the village and surrounding area who had lost fathers, husbands and sons, he had paid for the monument himself.

That first November as the group of survivors had stood in the rain to commemorate the loss of their brothers and friends, many had still relied on crutches, and as today, one or two had been in wheelchairs. It was a far cry from the day that they had stood in this same square waiting for the horse drawn carriages to take them off to basic training.

The call had come, and from the surrounding farms and isolated cottages, men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-eight, who were not exempt because of occupation, health or marital status, walked proudly into the recruitment centre in the village hall. David was just nineteen when war was declared and was swept along by the patriotic message and fervour that swept the nation. There was talk down the pub of places outside of their small community that might be visited.

‘Blimey, a chance to see the other side of the hill lads…’ and ‘Do you think those French girls are as friendly as they say?’

The thought of glory and adventure had been foremost in their young minds. It certainly did not hurt that the girls in the village became very attentive when they arrived back for leave after basic training in their uniforms. The day that they had formed up into a parade to march to the square and climb aboard the transports was frozen in time. Mothers weeping as they clung to their sons and fathers slapping them on the back and proudly straightening their caps. Couples embracing for one last kiss and whispered words of love.

It had been very different when David returned to the village a year later. Although now only twenty he felt that he had aged a lifetime. As he stepped down from the train in the nearby town, carefully favouring his injured right arm and struggling with his kitbag, it was without glory. The sight of his parents waiting from him in the evening sunlight had reduced him to tears and as the horse and cart made its way to the farm; his mother had held him tightly as he sobbed against her best coat.

Over those first few days of calm and peace; David had spent hours alone walking the fields and hills desperately trying to find any meaning behind the senseless carnage and sacrifice he had experienced. He knew that once his injury was fully healed he would have to return and the thought of this kept him awake at night in his room in the rafters of the farmhouse.

Then one day, as the sun shone as he helped his father harvest the wheat, he saw his mother heading towards them swinging a laden lunch basket. Beside her with golden hair that gleamed in the sunlight was a tall and very beautiful young woman.

‘Here you go pet,’ his mother handed off the basket to David. ‘You remember Cathy from the Black’s farm don’t you?’

David looked into bright blue eyes and was then drawn down to the perfectly formed red lips that smiled at him.

Six weeks later they were married in the village church and had walked out into the sunshine to a guard of honour of fellow soldiers home on leave or who had been injured. The reception in the hall in the square had been packed with well-wishers and David and Cathy had danced and celebrated until midnight. Then they had slipped away unnoticed to their room above the pub.

Every year since the memorial was erected David had marched with his comrades and then stood with them as wreaths were laid around the base. And each year his breath would catch in his chest and his heart would skip a beat as he watched his Cathy carry a wreath and lay it amongst the rest. That first year she had also held the hand of a little girl, his daughter who unlike all others somberly dressed, was wearing a beautiful handmade coat of blue. His favourite colour.

He had watched Cathy and his daughter every year since then as they would both walk proudly to the memorial and lay their tribute. But this year his daughter walked with another by her side and there was no sign of his darling wife. He slipped through the ranks of his comrades until he was standing in the front row. He could hear his daughter saying something to the tall young man by her side.

‘You lay the wreath David; your grandmother wanted you to do it for her this year.’

The lad reverently laid it down amongst the others and he stood back by his mother’s side. Together they turned and walked solemnly back towards the waiting villagers where they were greeted with hugs and the boy was patted on the back.

A tear rolled down David’s face with sorrow at the loss of his beautiful Cathy. As he stood bereft at the front of his silent comrades at attention, but with their heads bowed, the clouds parted and rays of sunshine spread across the square. As they did so, his eyes were drawn to a young woman with golden hair and blue eyes who walked over the cobbles to stand by his side. She slipped her cool hand into his and he smiled down at her with joy.

Unseen by all those who had gathered to remember him and all the others who had not returned; they slipped away hand in hand. The long wait for them both was over.

©sallycronin 2014

Remembrance and Veterans Day – For those who died and those that returned.


For millions around the world November 11th is a time to remember those who have not returned from global conflict. Fathers, brothers, husbands who gave their lives. Most of our families have been touched in some way by this devastating loss. My own grandfather died on November 2nd 1918 leaving behind a little girl of 11 months old that never knew her father.

The fact is our world is in constant conflict all the time somewhere. Young men and women from many nations are still putting their lives on the line, and whilst we all mourn the loss of life that results from these international disputes; there is little publicity about those that return wounded in body and mind.

Today is also a time to remember those who returned from conflict, changed physically, mentally and emotionally.

I was honoured to interview one such man for my television company. Mark Ormrod is a Royal Marine who lost both legs and an arm in Afghanistan and he is an absolute inspiration. Here is Mark talking about the events leading up to this catastrophic event in a video for the charity Blesma

Mark wrote a book about the events that changed his life forever.

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Down-Marine-Mark-Ormrod/dp/0552159492

However, for many of those who have been severely wounded in war,  experiences on their return can be desperate. Mark describes these extremely difficult challenges in a recent interview in The Standard.

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/royal-marine-who-lost-three-limbs-in-afghanistan-mark-ormrod-i-have-to-beg-borrow-and-steal-for-the-a2820696.html

The charity Blesma is specifically for those service men and women who have lost limbs and you can find out more details here. https://blesma.org/ They raise funds to ensure that those who have to face a lifetime of disability receive the best possible treatment and equipment needed to lead their lives as normally as they can.

There are other charities who work on behalf of service personnel on their return and here are some in both the UK, United States and Australia and if you are considering donating to charity then you might consider these and others, as they are all worthy recipients. There are also some organisations that work with the families of those in the armed services and they do very important work particularly with the children who like my mother have been left without a father or mother.

UK: https://blesma.org/about-blesma/mission-statement/
UK:http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk
UK: http://www.scottyslittlesoldiers.co.uk/
United States: http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
Australia: http://www.defencecare.org.au/about

I would like to think that those who did not return are in a better place and that they are looking down on the millions of their descendants who remember them today. And being Irish I am sure that my grandfather enjoyed a good song as I hear he was a bit of a ‘lad’ back in the day! Later today in the Wednesday music spot I will be sharing some of the songs that kept the spirits up of those on the front line.

My mother was 95 when she died and one of the conversations we had in the months leading up to her death was about her father and how she hoped she would now get to meet him in person for the first time.

sally wedding day 1980In honour of all those who did not return from all nations during both World Wars and since. Particularly for Corporal Herbert Francis Walsh REME: 1887 – November 2nd 2018 – Military Medal 1916.

Here is the Last Post including the two-minute silence at the Royal British Legion Service.

Thanks for joining me here today…Sally

What’s in a Name – ‘D’ for David – Beloved.


The boy’s name David is likely to be derived from the Hebrew meaning ‘beloved’. David was the second king of Israel and legend has it that he defeated Goliath the giant Philistine with a simple sling at a young age. The name has been used commonly since the Middle Ages and Saint David is the patron saint of Wales.

poppy

What’s in a Name ‘D’ for David – Beloved.

David stood beside his comrades as they waited in the village square for the parade to begin. Despite their advancing years, the men stood as tall as possible, often with the aid of a stick. Two of their number were in wheelchairs, and had been guided across the cobble stones by their fellow old soldiers.

It was a typical chilly November morning with dark skies and clouds laden with imminent rain. Whilst inappropriate perhaps for this solemn occasion, the men standing huddled against the cold wind; wished for a few rays of sunshine. Their overcoats were shiny with age but their shoes were burnished to a brilliance thanks to the loving attention the night before. A reminder of a time, when the action of rubbing in polish and then shining the boots for the sergeant’s approval, was used for reflection. A time to remember all the nights many years ago, when comrades would sit on camp beds talking quietly as they prepared their kit for inspection and parades.

Beribboned pins, holding silver and bronze medals, lay proudly against the material on their chests and nobody really noticed the frayed cuffs that peeked out from the sleeves of the worn coats. Their pride was clear to see by all who passed; many of whom smiled in recognition or tipped a hat. They were the old soldiers and heroes of the village and despite their dwindling numbers were respected and honoured. Not just today, but every time they were met in the shops and lanes of this small community that had given up so many of its young men to war.

David did not feel the cold and felt content to be part of the camaraderie and fellowship of being amongst those he had served with. He caught little snippets of conversation as he stood, head bowed waiting for the order to form into the parade.

‘My Elsie has had another grandson… Who would have thought it…? I’m a great granddad….’

‘That new doctor looks like he’s just left school… Told me that I had something called heemaroids… Used to call them bloody piles in my day…’

‘I’m sorry that Jack didn’t make it this year… Miss the old codger… We will have to find a replacement for the cribbage night…’

David smiled as he listened to his friends talking about their lives and raised his head as he heard the sound of the local brass band strike up.

He had been part of this ceremony for the last fifty years since the squire had erected the memorial in the centre of the village. Lord Roberts was a good man and had been devastated by the loss of his own son in the last few weeks of the war. Out of respect and loyalty to those other families in the village and surrounding area who had lost fathers, husbands and sons, he had paid for the monument himself.

That first November as the group of survivors had stood in the rain to commemorate the loss of their brothers and friends, many had still relied on crutches, and as today, one or two had been in wheelchairs. It was a far cry from the day that they had stood in this same square waiting for the horse drawn carriages to take them off to basic training.

The call had come, and from the surrounding farms and isolated cottages, men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-eight, who were not exempt because of occupation, health or marital status, walked proudly into the recruitment centre in the village hall. David was just nineteen when war was declared and was swept along by the patriotic message and fervour that swept the nation. There was talk down the pub of places outside of their small community that might be visited.

‘Blimey, a chance to see the other side of the hill lads…’ and ‘Do you think those French girls are as friendly as they say?’

The thought of glory and adventure had been foremost in their young minds. It certainly did not hurt that the girls in the village became very attentive when they arrived back for leave after basic training in their uniforms. The day that they had formed up into a parade to march to the square and climb aboard the transports was frozen in time. Mothers weeping as they clung to their sons and fathers slapping them on the back and proudly straightening their caps. Couples embracing for one last kiss and whispered words of love.

It had been very different when David returned to the village a year later. Although now only twenty he felt that he had aged a lifetime. As he stepped down from the train in the nearby town, carefully favouring his injured right arm and struggling with his kitbag, it was without glory. The sight of his parents waiting from him in the evening sunlight had reduced him to tears and as the horse and cart made its way to the farm; his mother had held him tightly as he sobbed against her best coat.

Over those first few days of calm and peace; David had spent hours alone walking the fields and hills desperately trying to find any meaning behind the senseless carnage and sacrifice he had experienced. He knew that once his injury was fully healed he would have to return and the thought of this kept him awake at night in his room in the rafters of the farmhouse.

Then one day, as the sun shone as he helped his father harvest the wheat, he saw his mother heading towards them swinging a laden lunch basket. Beside her with golden hair that gleamed in the sunlight was a tall and very beautiful young woman.

‘Here you go pet,’ his mother handed off the basket to David. ‘You remember Cathy from the Black’s farm don’t you?’

David looked into bright blue eyes and was then drawn down to the perfectly formed red lips that smiled at him.

Six weeks later they were married in the village church and had walked out into the sunshine to a guard of honour of fellow soldiers home on leave or who had been injured. The reception in the hall in the square had been packed with well-wishers and David and Cathy had danced and celebrated until midnight. Then they had slipped away unnoticed to their room above the pub.

Every year since the memorial was erected David had marched with his comrades and then stood with them as wreaths were laid around the base. And each year his breath would catch in his chest and his heart would skip a beat as he watched his Cathy carry a wreath and lay it amongst the rest. That first year she had also held the hand of a little girl, his daughter who unlike all others somberly dressed, was wearing a beautiful handmade coat of blue. His favourite colour.

He had watched Cathy and his daughter every year since then as they would both walk proudly to the memorial and lay their tribute. But this year his daughter walked with another by her side and there was no sign of his darling wife. He slipped through the ranks of his comrades until he was standing in the front row. He could hear his daughter saying something to the tall young man by her side.

‘You lay the wreath David; your grandmother wanted you to do this for her this year.’

The lad reverently laid it down amongst the others and he stood back by his mother’s side. Together they turned and walked solemnly back towards the waiting villagers where they were greeted with hugs and the boy was patted on the back.

A tear rolled down David’s face with sorrow at the loss of his beautiful Cathy. As he stood bereft at the front of his silent comrades at attention but with their heads bowed, the clouds parted and rays of sunshine spread across the square. As they did so, his eyes were drawn to a young woman with golden hair and blue eyes who walked over the cobbles to stand by his side. She slipped her cool hand into his and he smiled down at her with joy.

Unseen by all those who had gathered to remember him and all the others who had not returned; they slipped away hand in hand. The long wait for them both was over.

The previous stories can be found in this directory.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/whats-in-a-name-short-stories/

©sallygeorginacronin What’s in a Name