Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

It was called the "war to end all wars" and it ended as pen was placed to paper in a railway carriage in Compiègne Forest, just outside Paris, on this day in 1918.

And with that final stroke at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, signalling enough blood had been shed, the principal signatories, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of the Allies and Matthias Erzberger of Germany, concluded a treaty that ended the First World War.

Erzberger a civilian who had made a passionate plea for peace in the Reichstag more than a year earlier, protested the harshness of the Allied terms. Before leaving the railway car, he wrapped up by saying that "a nation of seventy millions can suffer, but it cannot die". (Marshall Foch ignored Erzberger's attempt to shake his hand and is said to have replied, "Très bien".)

Erzberger later became Germany's finance minister in 1919 before being assassinated by right-wing extremists who viewed his signing of the armistice as treachery.

Decades later, American author Joseph Campbell would write, "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself".

What is understood ... need not be said.

"It's a song that was written about the military cemeteries in Flanders and Northern France. In 1976, my wife and I went to three or four of these military cemeteries and saw all the young soldiers buried there"

The song "Willie McBride" is still a powerful indictment of war, and has been recorded many times since it was composed by singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1975. A version by Makem and Clancey is reputedly the largest selling single in Irish history. The song has also been covered by the Chieftains, the Dubliners, John McDermott and the Dropkick Murphys among others.

"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. 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. JOHN McCRAE


Vanessa said...

A touching tribute. Are any of the photos family members?

Gair Maxwell said...

Don't know ... just discovered the piece on YouTube and it happened to be the best of the various "Willie McBride's I looked at ...