The importance of Remembrance Day – “Lest We Forget”
“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.”
The immortal words of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae are as relevant and timely today as when they were first written May 3 1915. The previous day McCrae had just witnessed, first hand, the death of a close friend and a former student Alexis Helmer from an enemy shell. That evening, in the absence of a Chaplain, John McCrae recited from memory a few passages from the Church of England’s “Order of the Burial of the Dead.”
The next day, May 3, 1915, Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson was delivering mail. McCrae was sitting at the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the Yser Canal, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, Belgium. As John McCrae was writing his In Flanders Fields poem, Allinson silently watched and later recalled, “His face was very tired but calm as he wrote. He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer’s grave.”
Within moments, John McCrae had completed the “In Flanders Fields” poem and when he was done, without a word, McCrae took his mail and handed the poem to Allinson.
Allinson was deeply moved:
“The (Flanders Fields) poem was an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word ‘blow’ in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.”
“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!”
Given all of the current atrocities taking place around the globe, it is more than ever critical to remember those who have gone before us, sacrificing themselves to enable the world to be a better place.
“Take up our quarrel with the foe To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high”
Verdun, Ypres, Marne, Cambrai, to name just a very few of the battles of World War 1, where the blood of thousands of soldiers on both sides of the conflict was spilled so gratuitously, at the behest of a handful of madmen obsessed with world domination, should give us cause to reflect once more on the senselessness of the current theatres of conflict. The places, the times, the names may change – the outcomes do not.
The First World War began on July 28, 1914, a global conflict that more than any other event shaped the 20th century and the world we live in today.
When the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia that day over the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, it ignited a regional conflict that would soon drag the entire European continent into war. The participation of the Japanese Empire and the United States in the ensuing years would spread the conflict further, with more theaters, casualties and expenditures than any other war in history up to that point.
But even when the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, its legacy and impact were only beginning to take root. The First World War was responsible for the Great Depression, Second World War and Cold War in the coming decades, making the 20th century the most violent and destructive in the history of mankind..
“If ye break faith with us who die, We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields”
‘Lest We Forget’
Born in the middle of World War 11 in the industrial North Midlands of England, the various ordnance and steel manufacturers dotted about my home town were a natural target for enemy bombers. Every day was fraught with the ever-present danger of a bomb destroying homes and lives. My father served in the Royal Air Force and for most of my early years was overseas making his contribution to the war effort. Mercifully he was one who returned, sadly many others were not as fortunate…..
It is imperative that we do not consign all of these memories to history and forget about them. To do so would be to demean the courage, selflessness and esprit of the men and women who strove so valiantly to attain the freedoms we all enjoy today. We should never take their efforts lightly, or for granted, for without them, the world as we know it today would be a very different place.
November 11 must be remembered and celebrated in perpetuity so that we do not ever again allow the world to be immersed in tragedy and bloodshed.