Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Je me souviens

For the Fallen
by Laurence Binyon (1914)

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

My grandfather, my father, my uncle, my mother all served in World War II. My grandfather also served in WW I.

My parents met and married during the war. Yes, I am a descendant of a military family.

It became real to me in the fall of 2004 when I spent two weeks with my uncle on a Canadian veteran's tour of their World War II campaign in Italy.

I traveled to the site of battles, listened to the stories the soldiers had to tell, wanted to tell, needed to tell. Sometimes they were told with tears in their eyes, but more often they talked about the adventure, the camaraderie, the silly pranks they played.

They were just young, young men in a situation where they wanted to defend their freedom, their families, their country, and they were doing it in a world far away from their own.

This trip gave me a closer connection to my uncle, and, through those moments of connection, closer to my father who died when I was only seventeen.

I stood through many memorial ceremonies at cenotaphs, listening to speeches from our Governor-General, and weeping, moved to tears by the choirs of Italian children, and so fiercely proud of being a Canadian.

That experience brought the meaning of what it was like to be in a war closer to me. The suffering, the loss, the gratefulness of those who were given their freedom, the sorrow of those who lost sons, husbands, lovers, friends.

Throughout the tour I heard the words often: We will remember. As we are a bi-lingual country we also heard this phrase in french:

It echoes in my mind.

Je me souviens.

Especially today.

And I leave you with this poem, for my father who enlisted when he was just 17. He did return from this war, but it forever left its mark.

"Where are you going, Young Fellow My Lad,
On this glittering morn of May?"
"I'm going to join the Colours, Dad;
They're looking for men, they say."
"But you're only a boy, Young Fellow My Lad;
You aren't obliged to go."
"I'm seventeen and a quarter, Dad,
And ever so strong, you know."

"So you're off to France, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you're looking so fit and bright."
"I'm terribly sorry to leave you, Dad,
But I feel that I'm doing right."
"God bless you and keep you, Young Fellow My Lad,
You're all of my life, you know."
"Don't worry. I'll soon be back, dear Dad,
And I'm awfully proud to go

"Why don't you write, Young Fellow My Lad?
I watch for the post each day;
And I miss you so, and I'm awfully sad,
And it's months since you went away.
And I've had the fire in the parlour lit,
And I'm keeping it burning bright
Till my boy comes home; and here I sit
Into the quiet night

"What is the matter, Young Fellow My Lad?
No letter again to-day.
Why did the postman look so sad,
And sigh as he turned away?
I hear them tell that we've gained new ground,
But a terrible price we've paid:
God grant, my boy, that you're safe and sound;
But oh I'm afraid, afraid."

"They've told me the truth, Young Fellow My Lad:
You'll never come back again:
(Oh God! the dreams and the dreams I've had,
and the hopes I've nursed in vain!)
For you passed in the night, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you proved in the cruel test
Of the screaming shell and the battle hell
That my boy was one of the best.
"So you'll live, you'll live, Young Fellow My Lad,
In the gleam of the evening star,
In the wood-note wild and the laugh of the child,
In all sweet things that are.
And you'll never die, my wonderful boy,
While life is noble and true;
For all our beauty and hope and joy
We will owe to our lads like you."

Robert William Service


  1. Replies
    1. thank you for reading and commenting. It is much appreciated.

  2. Beautiful tribute for Veteran's Day. Love the poetry!

    1. Thank you. I have known of the first poem for years, but the poem at the end I only heard for the first time yesterday at the Victory Square cenotaph. It gave me chills because the first part is so much my father's story.

  3. We call it Remembrance Day here in Australia, a minute's silence at 11:00 am on 11/11, not just for Armistice Day but for all who fell and all who returned home broken and/or wounded. I am the volunteer curator and run the education program at the National Vietnam Veterans Museum ( which is not as grand as it sounds but we're working on it... pretty much completely run by volunteers it is housed in a plane hangar). I seriously considered posting WW1 poetry here too, coz it moves me so very much. Instead, I posted on Facebook about the first conscripted Aussie to be killed in Vietnam. He's a pet project of mine, and I'm writing about him in the hope of getting something published in the press next year for the 50th anniversary of the beginning of our involvement in Vietnam. His name was Errol Noack. He could have escaped service because he was a strict Lutheran, considering becoming a priest. Instead he did his duty, and was killed by "friendly fire" after only 11 days in country. I would have written about him for Nablopomo, but with the predominance of American women reading, thought it would be of little interest.
    My 2 younger kids are adopted from Korea, hence the Korean recipe. And today I posted about the cat as a sort of test of how much readership it gets compared to me other stuff. You, my brave ( or silly) soul, are my only follower.

    1. I am honoured to be your first. Trust me, you will get more....thank you for sharing about Mr. Noack. These stories need to be told.

  4. Beautiful tribute. Both my grandparents were war prisonners during WWII and I don't know anything about it because they were silent on what they experienced there. Must have been horrible. But I'm sad I don't know more because of the devoir de mémoire, the duty of remembering so that such horror doesn't happen again. But even with duty of memory, war still happens :/ The human species is still a beast.

    1. yes, I know very little about my father's experiences, he only told the funny stories, not the tragic ones, of which, I am certain, there were many. I love that expression, the devoir de memoire. And yes, I agree with your last line. I wish it wasn't so.


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