Number 15 on my
is to visit the setting of the poem that can always give me goosebumps.
On this one-hundred-year anniversary of the start of Britain’s fighting in World War I England went dark, except for a single light or candle, for one hour starting at 10 this evening, August 4th.
Poppies fill the moat of The Tower of London in remembrance.
It’s unfathomable to me that 17 million lives were lost over the four plus years of The Great War (and I use that term with a dry chuckle). I know what “great” means in this case, large in scope and impact, but I can’t imagine what it was like to be Canadian during those years.
We had no choice. Britain were at war and we were Britain’s young and inexperienced child. We followed them into the darkness and the death.
I have been fascinated by John McCrae’s tragically sad poem “In Flanders Fields” since it was read at our Remembrance Day assembly in school. Now that I am older and love literature and poetry I see it for the meaningful piece of both of these that it is, a brilliant lyrical window into the suffering of combat and conflict that would be the world wars of the 20th century.
I read about the pride and the duty to one’s country; about the trenches with the death, rotting corpses, the blood, rats, and the lice; the shrapnel, machine gun fire, and the poison gas. I can’t and never will understand this hell. I feel a pull to this time in history too for the romance of the love letters written by soldiers on the front back to their sweethearts a world away at home, the toughness and resilience of this period.
It is hard for me to relate to a time when Germany and the German soldier were considered the enemy. Whether it’s World War I or World War II I know that was the case, but having such a connection to Germany with family living there, now I feel stuck in a war inside my head that has long ago been fought and resolved. I don’t have to choose, but in my mind I am pulled back to that time when things were just that black and white.
As for McCrae I imagine him sitting there in the midst of all that death and writing a poem he probably never could have guessed generations of school children would be hearing and taking in as we have.
I hope to travel to this spot. Places in Europe I hope to still visit in my lifetime such as Flanders, Vimy Ridge, or possibly Passchendaele would bring it to a whole new level of surrealism for me.
For now I must settle for reading and rereading the
and letting my mind stretch to grasp such a time in history that I will never know, but I feel the impact on my own personal view of the world since the guns were silenced and the century I would eventually be born into wore on.
Talk of foes and the ones who once lived, loved, and felt the sun on their faces will never stop affecting me, but back then it would take one more, one more World War would be necessary before death on such a global scale would have all countries involved saying ENOUGH!
I don’t think we’ve quite learned our lesson, on the contrary. I just wanted to explain why number 15 appears on my list and why I even care at all when it is often thought and said that today’s generation could care less.
I once asked my father (ever a cynic) if he thought there would someday be a World War III and he said gravely:
“I think, nowadays with nuclear weapons, that would spell doom and the end of this planet for us all.”
Only time will tell I guess, but for my niece and nephews sakes I hope he is wrong and I hope our world has learned something from the World Wars of the past. Nonetheless, it will mean something to me if I ever manage to check number 15 off my ever-growing list.