In Flanders Fields

This poem of John McCrae is well known and taught to children in schools.

He wrote from the point of those who were killed in the Great War. It reflects a view of war that remained too romantic and early in the war, before bitterness and cynicism set in.

In our days, many think that celebrating Remembrance Day is glorifying war. In the present toxic political climate in the UK, anything is possible. What cannot be doubted is our duty of remembering those who were sacrificed and died in their late teens or early twenties. Their souls are joined to all the souls of the Departed for whom we celebrated Mass on 2nd November.

I took the above photo in a field just a few minutes away from where I live. In summertime, poppies grow in profusion all along the northern coast of France. I live about an hour by car from the Somme where much of the bitterest fighting took place. A little over one hour the other way, westwards, and I can be on the D-Day beaches of 6th June 1944. I once had the honour of a conversation with an American veteran of Omaha Beach. The carnage was horrible and soul-maiming. To get some idea of how it was, watch Saving Private Ryan. Whether in the Somme or on the beaches, the horror and fear can still be felt.

I will pray for these poor souls, and ask them to pray for our sinful world that we may never know and suffer what they went through, not only the soldiers, airmen and sailors, but also civilians and the victims of genocide. As Christians, we believe that they live on and watch over us like the Angels. May this be our thought and prayer as the poppy petals fall at the appointed moment tomorrow.

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
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.

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1 Response to In Flanders Fields

  1. Stephen K says:

    I never think that Armistice Day glorifies war – in fact it glorifies peace. By contrast, it is the conservative politicians who use such days – like those who have used, in Australia, Anzac Day – for the cynical political machismo that glorifies militarism. My grandmother had five adult brothers enlist for the Great war (two had previously served in the Boer War) – one was killed and is buried at Trois-Arbres Cemetery Steenwerck France, not far from Armentieres. Two were wounded and one died from gas injuries. I revere their memory, respect their courage, lament their suffering, and vow never to repeat their political naivete.

    Anyone who reads the history of the Great War – or seen the searing documentary narrated by Dame Judi Dench – must come to realise that it was a tragedy and folly and indictment of empires of colossal proportion at the cost of millions of innocents and that it had devastating generational consequences. Horace’s oft-cited dulce et decorum est pro patria mori might be reasonably thought the Latin equivalent to a Wagnerian inspiration for the Nazi party.

    I feel sad for all the soldiers – killed, wounded and surviving – in this war, but the jingoists on both sides who prevailed over those who tried to avert it must be roundly condemned. And it was poems like Sir Henry Newbolt’s “Vitai Lampada” (written at the time of the Boer War) – Play up! Play up! And play the game! – which they used.

    Here is an excerpt from a poem I wrote some years ago, in blank verse, the beginning of an ode to ancestors, which touches on the generation of that episode and their experience:

    “Sing, O Muse, again that tale, oft told,
    Of those Australians, first in times of old
    When nationhood was but a thought, a dream
    In the mind of a few inspired statesmen;
    But when, too, the character that dwelt
    There deep within the hearts of those that felt
    It right to fight for Empire and for home
    And which sustained them through the battles,
    The trenches, and the clutching mud and death
    (The burning throats and choking desperate breath)
    Of the Great War, at Flanders and at Mons,
    At Passchendale, Verdun, at Ypres and the Somme
    Was already formed………….”

    I will pray for them with you.

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