11 November 2008

11th hour, 11th day, 11th month

















“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.”

It was the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month that the Great War finally drew to a close. And the world would never be the same again. I do not have the words to describe the war. I don’t think anyone does. Even those who fought in the trenches, who watched comrades fall, who came back wounded, destroyed; even they couldn’t find the words. It was worse than any horror imaginable. The roads leading to the trenches were covered with the bodies of dead men and animals, carcases too laborious to move, bodies too numerous to count . The wrecked shells of supply carts and ambulance wagons lay scattered across the fields. entire plains collapsed and barren due to the heavy artillery bombardments. Shell holes made some areas impassable. The unyielding downpour of rain made travel and life even more difficult, creating slimy pits of mud that simply swallowed equipment and men alike as they passed. Even remaining stationary didn’t help. The platforms and make-shift shelters the men tried to build simply crumbled and sunk; more often than not creating additional causalities. It was atrocious. It was hell.

Today is the day we honour those brave young men who fought in those bloody trenches. Today is the day we honour ALL the brave men and women who have served in the armed forces in some way. Be it the front lines, the sea, the air, the nurses station or the home front. each and every person who has so selflessly given their time, effort and sometimes even life for the protection and defence of country, humanity, life, and freedom. We honour them.

I went to the ceremony today at the cenotaph on Whitehall commerating to the very day the 90th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War. I can not even begin to describe how simply amazing it was. Thousands turned out on this very special of Tuesdays to celebrate and honour the thousands before us who have so bravely served. But today was different. Today was extraordinary. Today Henry Allingham, Williams Stone and Harry Patch all laid wreaths at exactly the 11th hour. Henry and Harry are both 110, Williams is 108. They are the last 3 surviving British vets of the First World War. Mr. Harry Patch is the only, THE ONLY survivor who saw active warfare in the trenches. He served in Passchendaele. (Click here and here to learn more.)

I got to Whitehall nearly 2 hours before the service was scheduled to start. I was determined to have a clear view of the veterans. When I arrived barely after 9am, the street was already filling up. By 10.45 there was not an empty spot of tarmac or sidewalk visible. Thousands had come out to show their respect. When the 3 men were wheeled into sight, deafening cheers and thunderous applause erupted from the crowd. Tears sprang into my eyes and began to pour down my checks. even now as I write this I am beginning to well up. The 3 men were so bravely holding their heads as high as their frail and aging bodies would allow, gripping their wreaths of poppies. they were remembering. Williams Stone allowed his wreath to be placed on the cenotaph by a member of the Royal Navy, Harry Patch had his placed by a Royal Marine. Henry Allingham refused to give his up. He so badly wanted to lay the wreath himself. but he couldn’t move. he was chocked up, confined to his wheel chair. he was shifting and fidgeting in a futile attempt to place his poppy wreath on the monument. he refused to let go. my tears came even harder. there was not a single eye that was not moist with the heartache that comes only from seeing a once strong, proud, and well decorated war veteran struggle with the simple task of honouring his comrades. He finally released the wreath and it was laid. The imagine of that struggle will forever be implanted in my memory. His determination even at 110, even after 2 World Wars, even after mustard gas poisoning, even after years of hard work, toil, and countless deaths around him...even then he still had his spirit left. he still wated to be strong. that is true courage. I will never forget the faces of those 3 veterans. It was a honour to see them in person. It was a dream come true.


After the service had ended and the 3 veterans were wheeled to 10 Downing Street, I made my way over to Westminster Abbey. During this time of Remembrance the grounds of the Abbey are covered with crosses, wreaths and poppies. Today, scattered between the rows and rows of make-shift memorials, were numerous veterans spanning all the wars. This must be a proud moment for them. They are honoured regardless of the popularity of the armed forces or of the current war. they are respected. they are looked upon as the heroes they truly are. even more tears fell. I was overwhelmed at the amount of lives impacted by war, both past and current. I have always had a soft spot for the military and I have always been interested in learning more about various conflicts. But today, more so than ever, I was reminded just how important, how truly significant, our war heroes are.





We Will Remember Them...

5 comments:

kaw said...

I just read an article on Allingham about 5 minutes ago. It's amazing that those three are still alive! It's so awesome that you got to be there for the ceremony!

Kim Watkins

Sohailah said...

thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

My eyes welled up just reading this. They are our true heros.
x

Devi said...

Very touching, Kristina. This isn't necessarily the response you're looking for, but I can't help but think it. You NEED to write history books. I know I would buy yours, read it and read it to my children. Your first two paragraphs were particularly excellent.

molly caitlin said...

kristina-

i just now saw your comment and got really excited. your so great and encouraging. now we're blog buddies!

first of all, can i just saw how happy i am that you wrote a whole blog about history? at the moment i taking a break from writing about the election of 1940... history, oh history.

turns out i might actually make my way to amsterdam this summer. nothing is certain and i'm going to be in central america all spring so the logistics are tricky, but i might be on your continent in july!

now i'm going to go stalk you via blogspot.