Remembrance Sunday

I always find it hard to find the right words to say today, and I’m not at all envious of people who have to give sermons or speeches about the First World War in particular – to me, the entire conflict seems like such a waste of life and so pointless that there is very little to say other than this. Phrases like ‘over by Christmas’ and ‘the war to end wars’ abound, and yet conflicts all over the world continue to go on, the war lasted just over four years and we are still selling weapons which fuel the destruction of war.

The best anti-war song I know of is June Tabor’s version of No Man’s Land: (here is a link to the song and the lyrics of it)

 

Well, how do you do, Private William McBride?
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun
I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done
And I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916
Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willam McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Chorus:
Did they beat the drum slowly?
Did they sound the pipe lowly?
Did the rifles fire o’er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sing “The Last Post” in chorus?
Did the pipes play “The Flowers of the Forest”?

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind?
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And though you died back in 1916
To that faithful heart are you always nineteen?
Or are you just a stranger without even a name
Forever enclosed behind some glass pane
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Chorus:
Did they beat the drum slowly?
Did they sound the pipe lowly?
Did the rifles fire o’er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sing “The Last Post” in chorus?
Did the pipes play “The Flowers of the Forest”?

Well, the sun it shines down on these green fields of France
The warm wind blows gently and the red poppies dance
The trenches have vanished now under the plow
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard it’s still No Man’s Land
And the countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned

4. And I can’t help but wonder now, Willie McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you ‘The Cause?’
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain
For Willie McBride, it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again

 

***

 

Remembrance itself is difficult to get right. So often it either becomes performative or it glorifies war – remembering becomes a way of forgetting. As Irwin says in the History Boys, it isn’t ‘lest we forget’ but ‘lest we remember’ – so many memorials are more about this performance, rather than remembering those who died. He says ‘there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it’, and that certainly seems to be born out. I watched the final few minutes of the ‘Festival of Remembrance’ last night and it was genuinely horrifying to see people cheering, and encouraged to cheer. It seemed completely wrong, treating war almost like a sporting event.

I don’t like the word sacrifice, partly for that reason – those who died didn’t sacrifice their lives for a ’cause’. There’s a lot of people who can and have written  a lot more articulately than I can on class, imperialism and the generational divide, and with a lot more authority.

There’s another song which feels appropriate to post today – it’s from War Horse and again, I’ll post the song and the lyrics.

 

Faded away like the stars in the morning,

Losing their light in the glorious sun—

Thus would we pass from this earth and its toiling?

Only remembered for what we have done.

Only remembered, only remembered,

Only remembered for what we have done;

Thus would we pass from this earth and its toiling?

Only remembered for what we have done.

 

Horses and men, ploughshares and traces,

The line on the land and the paths of the sun.

Season by season we mark nature’s graces.

Only remembered for what we have done.

Only remembered, only remembered,

Only remembered for what we have done;

Season by season we mark nature’s graces.

Only remembered for what we have done.

 

Only the truth that in life we have spoken,

Only the seed that in life we have sown;

These will pass onwards – when we are forgotten,

Only remembered for what we have done.

Who’ll sing the anthem and who will tell the story?

Will the line hold? Will it scatter and run?

Shall we at last be united in glory?

Only remembered for what we have done

Only remembered only remembered

Only remembered for what we have done

Shall we at last be united in glory?

Only remembered for what we have done

Only remembered for what we have done

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s