Sunday, 10 November 2013



November 11th is a time to take notice of that war memorial you always walk past without stopping.
Perhaps check out all those poppy wreaths laid at its base and maybe even have a look at all those names inscribed on it. Then remember them.

As the clamouring starts next year with the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, I do sincerely hope that history won't be rewritten to suit modern eyes. A lot of preconceptions about the Great War are rightly being questioned and studied, but I wonder how many battles and generals will suddenly start to be heralded as major triumphs and heroes.

Some historians have already claimed the Battle of the Somme was a triumph. It wasn't. It was slaughter.

There is a fantastic poem by Siegfried Sassoon called Editorial Impressions, which is a biting response to how the Press wrote about the war.

Editorial Impressions
He seemed so certain 'all was going well',
As he discussed the glorious time he'd had
While visiting the trenches.
                        'One can tell
You've gathered big impressions!' grinned the lad
Who'd been severely wounded in the back
In some wiped-out impossible Attack.
'Impressions? Yes, most vivid! I am writing
A little book called Europe on the Rack,
Based on notes made while witnessing the fighting.
I hope I've caught the feeling of 'the Line',
And the amazing spirit of the troops.
By Jove, those flying chaps of ours are fine!
I watched one daring beggar looping loops,
Soaring and diving like some bird of prey.
And through it all I felt that splendour shine
Which makes us win.'
                       The soldier sipped his wine.
'Ah yes, but it's the Press that leads the way!'

Siegfried Sassoon 1917

Earlier this year there was a brilliant BBC programme, Wipers Times, based on the true story of the men who produced a satirical magazine in Ypres. The writers and editors completely understood the dark humour and feelings of the ordinary soldier.
Sassoon knew as well. Another poem captures the often simple dreams and wishes of the Tommy serving in the trenches. The last line is particularly poignant.

Soldiers are citizens of death's grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time's tomorrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.

I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and pictures shows and spats,
And going to the office in the train.

Siegfried Sassoon 1917

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