Tag Archives: world war i

At the going down of the sun we shall remember them

One of my earliest recollections of growing up in Liverpool, is of a relative (I called him big granddad or Captain Jim), who had fought and been wounded in World War I. I remember him tapping with the walking stick, which he invariably used, on the fish tank which sat in a corner of my grandfather’s (on my Mother’s side) living room. In later life I learned that he had been (and remained until his death) a member of the Labour Party and that meetings of the local organisation had taken place in his home.

I have no memory of ever having talked with this kind gentleman regarding how he came to walk with a stick but, later in life I learned that he had been wounded in the trenches. I have no idea of what this man had been through (its difficult at this distance in time to comprehend the horror of trench warfare other than by reading the accounts of eye witnesses, the recordings of those who fought in the “Great War” and, of course the poetry of the war poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke). In retrospect I wish that I had spoken with Captain Jim about his experiences. However I was a small boy so did not do so. Even had I raised the subject, its perfectly possible that he may not have wished to engage with me (or anyone else) on it.

Back in November 2016 I wrote the below poem “Poppy” which is reproduced below:

To those who died that you and me
Might live free.
To those who gave their sweet breath for King and Countrie.
I regret that yesterday
I had no cash to pay
For a poppy deep red
To remember the dead.

I will not know the stench
Of trench
Nor the wrench
Of fear
And pain as spear
Drains the life away.

What can the poet say
Who has never known
The touch of steel against bone?
We die alone
But most will peaceful go
And will not know
The whoa
Of comrades lost,
Nor count the cost
Of bloody strife.
They will not give their life
That others (you and me)
May live free.

Having only my debit card I regret to say
That I could not buy
A blood red
Poppy to remember the dead
As I wended my way
To my nine to five job yesterday”.

 

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“Attack” by Siegfried Sassoon, as read by Dame Helen Mirren

A powerful reading by Dame Hellen Mirren of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem “Attack”,

We authors/poets are often exhorted to “show not tell”. Sassoon’s poem does a lot of “telling” and does it extremely effectively. Indeed I am of the firm conviction that many of those who exhort we writers to “show not tell” can not hold a candle to Sassoon.

Kevin

“Disabled” By Wilfred Owen

Yesterday (20 July) I came across “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57285/disabled. As someone who is himself disabled (I am registered blind), I was interested to see how one of the great poets of World War I portrays disability.

In “Disabled, Owen describes a young man who enlists in the army while underage, is terribly wounded (he loses both legs and its implied his arms also). Returning to the UK he is institutionilised and (the poem implies) his former joys, including any prospect of a woman’s love are at an end:

“Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease”.

In the above lines, Owen falls into the trap of assuming that disabled people are sexless, an idea which still persists to this day amongst some people (including the so-called educated sections of the population). Throughout history disabled people have (to state the obvious) had sexual relations both within marriage and outside of that institution. Here Owen is projecting his own view of disability onto an unnamed and depersonalised individual who has been horribly injured in war.

Having said the above, it remains as true today (as it did in Owen’s time) that many people will not entertain the idea of entering into a relationship with a person who has a disability. However it is by no means unusual for someone who is disabled to have a non-disabled partner (as a visually impaired man most of my relationships have been with sighted women).

The poem ends on the same sad note, that of a man who has lost all joy in living, including the possibility of finding love:

“Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?”.

(For an interesting article on the poem please see this piece on Disability Arts Online, http://disabilityarts.online/magazine/opinion/war-poem-disabled-wilfred-owen/).

Remembrance

In honour of those who gave their lives for freedom, I am reproducing below my poem “Poppy”, which first appeared here on 4 November 2016. This year I was able to purchase a poppy to remember the dead.

To those who died that you and me
Might live free.
To those who gave their sweet breath for King and Countrie.
I regret that yesterday
I had no cash to pay
For a poppy deep red
To remember the dead.

I will not know the stench
Of trench
Nor the wrench
Of fear
And pain as spear
Drains the life away.

What can the poet say
Who has never known
The touch of steel against bone?
We die alone
But most will peaceful go
And will not know
The whoa
Of comrades lost,
Nor count the cost
Of bloody strife.
They will not give their life
That others (you and me)
May live free.

Having only my debit card I regret to say
That I could not buy
A blood red
Poppy to remember the dead
As I wended my way
To my nine to five job yesterday.

The Blind Victoria Cross (VC)

The latest edition of RNIB’s Vision Magazine contains an interesting interview with Lord Ashcroft about his collection of Victoria Crosses, one of which was awarded to a soldier who went blind and after World War I went on to practice law as a lawyer. For the podcast please visit http://dl.groovygecko.net/anon.groovy/clients/rnib/Vision-66.mp3.

My Boy Jack Review

Yesterday evening my friend Brian and I attended a production of My Boy Jack at the Teddington Theatre Club, http://www.teddingtontheatreclub.org.uk/production/my-boy-jack. I wholeheartedly recommend the production which, unfortunately finishes it’s run today (Saturday 5 July).

At the outbreak of World War I Rudyard Kipling is determined that his severely short sighted son John (known as Jack) should enlist in the army. Having been rejected 3 times due to his poor eyesight Kipling uses his influence to secure Jack a position as an officer in the Irish Guards. Jack goes missing in 1915 and is later found to have been killed while leading his platoon into battle.

The portrayal of life in the trenches is masterful. The colourful language and the sheer gut wrenching terror of the soldiers who feel in their bones they are going over the top of the trenches to almost inevitable death had me feeling that I was present with Jack and his platoon. The relentless rain mingled with the sound of heavy artillery brought the battlefield to life. Fortunately the Director had kindly warned me about the sound effects during the first half of the play so my guide dog Trigger remained with her outside the theatre until the interval which is, I feel sure not in her job description!

Jack’s enlistment and subsequent death causes huge tension in the Kipling household. Throughout the play his sister is vocal in denouncing her father for exerting pressure on Jack to enlist despite knowing that his vision is virtually non existent in the absence of glasses. Kipling’s daughter is an angry, vocal young woman who refuses to be silenced.

The Kipling family are visited by a survivor of Jack’s platoon who describes seeing Jack seriously wounded and then vanishing in a burst of shell fire. Kipling’s response is that his son has died gloriously fighting for Britain but his wife and daughter see his death as futile. In an emotional sceene Kipling admits that he must see Jack’s sacrifice as meaningful otherwise there is nothing left to hold onto. He loves his country and can not concede that his son may have died, stumbling around, blind in the trenches for no rhyme or reason. In the end there is a reconciliation of sorts in the Kipling family but the death of Jack remains ever present.

As a visually impaired person I felt for Jack as he struggled to read the letters during his medical examination for the army. Ironically had his father not used his influence Jack would have survived the war as he was medically unfit for military service due to his severely impaired vision but then, of course there would have been no play.

Photographs of life in Nazi Germany

The Daily Mail for 29 November has an article showing life in Nazi Germany in 1937 through the lense of the camera. The photographs show happy Germans and where taken by a Norwegian photographer who was a member of the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party). I was struck by the fact that the article makes no reference to the terrible cruelties which Hitler’s Germany was already inflicting on the Jews and other groups at that time (although the “Final Solution” which entailed the slaughter of approximately 6 million Jewish people didn’t start until World War II was underway, Jews where already being systematically discriminated against being banned from marrying non-Jews and being gradually deprived of other rights).

For the article please visit http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2240351/Sunshine-swastikas-Rare-colour-pictures-1930s-Berlin-carefree-life-Hitler-s-capital-war-reduced-rubble.html