Sunday, 10 November 2013

We Will Remember Them

In 1918, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent along the Western and Eastern fronts in Europe. An armistice had been signed, and the Great War had ended, after over four years of the bloodiest warfare ever.

There is an almost cruel irony in the fact that the first and also some of the last shots of the war were fired within fifty metres of each other.

4th Dragoon Memorial,
Casteau, Belgium
On August 22nd 1914, a British cavalry troop, the 4th Dragoon Guards, were involved in the first skirmish with the Germans at a small village called Casteau, near the Belgian town of Mons. During this short battle, Captain E Thomas fired the first shot at the enemy, and killed a German cavalry officer.

Canadian Memorial at Casteau
On the morning of November 11th, 1918, a Canadian Infantry Battalion were on the trail of retreating German soldiers, and after firing their final shots, they stopped firing at 11 o’clock at the village of Casteau.

In the four years between those first and last shots in the small Belgian village, hundreds of thousands lives had been lost in the trenches and battlefields on the Western and Eastern fronts.
August 22nd, 1914                      November 11th 1918
In 1915 Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote a poem after presiding over the funeral of a friend who died in the Second Battle of Ypres:
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.
The references to the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers resulted in the poppy becoming one of the world's most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflicts.

In Britain, a Festival of Remembrance is held at the Royal Albert Hall in London on the Saturday nearest to November 11th. It commemorates all who have lost their lives in conflicts. Part concert, part memorial service, it concludes with a parade of representatives of all the armed forces as well as the uniformed volunteer organisations. Once they are all in place in the large arena, there is a two minute silence, and thousands of poppy petals are released from the roof. It is said there is one poppy petal for each person who has died in conflicts.
Image by Sgt G Spark, RAF
The following morning, another service is held at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall, and at the same time, similar services are held at hundreds of war memorials in every part of the country, and also wherever British troops are serving overseas. If  November 11th doesn't fall on a Sunday, a two minute silence is observed 'at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day'.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
(Lawrence Binyon)
My great-uncle's grave in a small cemetery
in the Somme area of France.
He died in March 1918, aged 20.
Stanley Charles Garnar
1897 - 1918




  1. Those services sound wonderful. It's so important that the losses are never forgotten and what caused them. Lovely post.

  2. Nicely done, Ms. Paula. You do have a way with our history lessons; a way I enjoy very much.


  3. Claudia, the sad thing is that it seems we never learn.

    Agree, T Drecker. It's not a glorification of war, as some people try to say, but a way of thanking our armed forces for all they've done and are still doing.

    Thanks, Jo, Glad you are enjoying the history lessons!

  4. Beautiful post, Paula. We here in America honor Veteran's Day either on the Sunday before November 11th or on the day itself with church services. There also are parades and other special activities held. We, as parents and grandparents, need to take the kids to such things and explain to them why it is so important to remember the day.
    I enjoyed the history you shared with us about the Belgian town. Thanks so much for that.

  5. Thanks, sky. We honour the vets as the same time as remembering those who died. I think you have your Memorial Day to remember the ones who died.

  6. Paula--I loved this. Thank you. I do know about the 11's, but I daresay few do. My unfinished Great War--which it was called until WWII came along--romance is about a soldier returning home to Texas...etc. I think I've told you this.
    And I've always loved the Flanders Fields poem.
    One year, I was on a visitation team from church, and I visited an elderly lady in a nursing home who loved to talk but had no idea where she was or what she was saying. She moved her wheelchair close to the window, looked out, and began to recite Flanders Fields. When she finished, I asked, "What do you see out there?"
    She answered, "Why, all those pretty poppies in a row."
    I looked out on the empty lot and saw those little red flags on a piece of wire stuck in the ground to mark a gas line--someone was going to build there. How sweet, and funny, and sad, too...she thought the little plastic triangular flags were poppies.
    During most of my growing up years and into my 30s and 40s, Boy Scouts or some organization sold paper poppies. We called it Poppy Day. I've bought and worn many of those.
    Thanks for all the memories. Well don.

  7. Paula, thank you so much for sharing your perspective. It was so heartwarming to read about the poppies. I heard that poppies were a "big" thing in America in the early 20th century, but I would say it's something we've gotten away from them. I recall seeing them when I was a little girl, but I very rarely see them these days.

    Thank you for sharing a picture of your uncle and remembering veterans from all over.

    Steph Burkhart
    SSG, US Army, MP

  8. Hi Paula,
    Wonderful blog. We celebrate Remembrance Day here in Australia on the 11th, and many people still buy and wear the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
    I have actually visited the battlefield in France and Belgium a truly poignant experience. I have four published novels that are set against a background of the Great War. We found the grave of one of my distant relatives. He died of wounds at the military hospital in Rouen in 1916. Very sad, he was married with two little children.



  9. Paula, thank you for this lovely tribute to the veterans of The Great War. And a special thanks for quoting the poem In Flanders Fields which I mentioned in Linda Acaster's FB post as hearing read by my daddy when I was a little girl. I got the first line right except for the word "grow" instead of "blow." I attended one service of commeration while living in England and it was very moving. And no, we here in the States don't seem now to use the poppies as a symbol of the blood shed in that war. WWII seems to have overshadowed the first WW.

  10. Thanks, Celia! What a lovely story about the old lady and the poppies. Our paper poppies are made by disabled ex-servicemen and sold by the British Legion, a charity founded in 1921 to help the armed forces and veterans and their families. Their 'poppy appeal' each year raises of pounds to help those in need.

  11. Steph, the poppies are now very much part of our British tradition every November.

  12. Margaret, good to see you here! I've also visited many of the battlefields and war cemeteries in France and Belgium. As you say, very poignant, and heartrending when you see how young so many of the soldiers were when they were killed. A whole generation of young men wiped out - a tragic loss of young lives.

  13. Linda, I've actually been to the 'Advanced Dressing Station' where John McCrae was working when he wrote his poem - and yes, there were poppies growing nearby.

  14. What a beautiful, moving and informative post. I have a fascination for WWI. It started with horses and sabers and ended in the Industrial age with tanks and planes. I think that's just amazing. I really didn't know where the connection with the red poppies came in, but now I do because of this blog. What a wonderful tribute you have provided.
    All the best to you, Paula.

  15. Thank you so much, Sarah. It seems that war speeds up the process of invention, not just with new weapons, but also with improved methods of communication, and also medical advances. Fascinating topic, as you say!