As I approach the gates of heaven;
St. Peter I will tell,
One more soldier reporting sir;
I've served my time in hell.
-Mark Anthony Gresswell
This weekend, we celebrate Memorial Day in America, which originally honored military personnel who died in the civil War from 1861-1865
Roughly 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War, making it the deadliest war in American history. The holiday is observed every year on the last Monday of May.
Memorial Day originated as Decoration Day after the American war in 1868, after the Grand Army of the republic,(an organization of Union veterans known as the GAR,) declared it as a time for the nation to decorate war Veteran’s graves with flowers.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was a soldier, physician and poet from Guelph Ontario.
Following the outbreak of the First Worlds war, McCrae enrolled with the Canadian forces as a gunner and a medical officer, and was sent to fight in Flanders. He survived a most terrible battle in Ypres, Flanders, in April of 1915 where Germany launched one of the first chemical attacks in the history of war.
During a terrifying two week siege under relentless gunfire, and suffocating clouds of burning chlorine gas, whilst fighting amongst the dead, wounded and maimed, he lost one of his closest friends. He buried Alexis Helmer himself in the fields of Ypres, and observed how quickly Poppies were growing around the fresh graves of those young soldiers killed in battle.
The very next day, while sitting in the back of an ambulance outside Ypres, he wrote his now famous poem,
In Flanders Fields.
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.
The poem quickly became the most popular poem of the era, and was considered to define a soldier’s duty, and describe the ultimate sacrifice of defending one’s country. The poem became a popular motivational tool in Great Britain, where it was used to encourage soldiers fighting against Germany, and in the United States where it was reprinted across the country.
It was also used in Canada as propaganda, to encourage conscription. The Canadian Prime minister Robert Borden was quoted to say that,
"In Flanders Fields has done more to make this dominion persevere in the duty of fighting for the world's ultimate peace, than all the political speeches of the recent campaign".
It became one of the most quoted works during World War 1, and was used in many places to sell War Bonds and to criticize those who sought to profit from the war.
Red poppies, (The Flanders Poppy) are now known as a symbol of remembrance, and it is a tradition, especially in Europe, to wear them to honor those who died in the Great War.
The major art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London, was created by Artist Paul Cummins and Tom Piper to mark one hundred years since the Britain entered the First World War.
888,246 ceramic red poppies have progressively filled the Tower's famous moat between 17 July and 11 November 2014. Each poppy represents a British military soldier who died during the war.
The poppies have now encircled the iconic landmark, creating a spectacular display visible from all around the Tower and a powerful visionary commemoration
Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more
Days of danger, nights of waking
-Sir Walter Scott
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
- Mary Frye (1932)
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow;
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain;
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush;
I am in the graceful rush.
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the star-shine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.
Freedom is not Free
I watched the flag pass by one day.
It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it,
and then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud,
He'd stand out in any crowd.
I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?
How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, freedom isn't free.
I heard the sound of TAPS one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times
That TAPS had meant "Amen,"
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington
No, freedom isn't free.
In memory of American soldiers who have died in battle, 228,000 flags were planted this year at Arlington national Cemetery. Click on the link below to view the ceremony which took over 1000 soldiers four hours to complete…
In war, there is no prize for the runner-up. -General Omar Bradley
So long as there are men there will be wars. -Albert Einstein
Have a safe Memorial Day
and in England, a have a happy Bank-holiday weekend :)