The Power of Words
Eleventh hour | Eleventh day | Eleventh month
Today, member countries of the Commonwealth (particularly) recall those who lost their lives during the many engagements of World War 1. Hostilities famously ended at 11am on the 11th November 1918 when the Armistice was signed. It is a day when the dying strains of the Last Post ring out over two minutes of silence around the world. It is a day when simple words have galvanised the world to remember those who were lost.
Despite having worn the poppy on November eleventh for decades, I discovered the words of Lt. Col. John McCrae (‘In Flanders Fields‘) only last year when I was researching the history of a particular military unit for one of my books. McCrae was a physician in the Great War and a staunch believer they needed more troops to fight, not more doctors to patch-up the wounded. His words caused debate, his words changed policy and his words–a single image within the words–captured the imagination and spirit of the world, and created a symbol worn internationally to mark remembrance nearly a century later.
All of this in a poem that McCrae wrote–and then tossed away–for a mate he lost. McCrae did not live to see the signing of the Armistice. His words, therefore, are hauntingly prophetic.
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.
–Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 – 1918)
My two grandfathers served in the Australian Infantry and British Air Force respectively during World War 2. My family was lucky. Both men came home. I never asked them about their time in the war. I never thanked them. I never stood with them on November eleventh. I was young and thought I’d have them forever.
I write this for them now. It’s not going to be around in ninety years, but I felt them close to me as I was writing it…
…and I remembered.
War made men of boys and heroes of men and heroes of fathers who came home again
But children have children and Glory gets old and soldiers die ‘fore their stories are told
Too late we blow bugles. Lest we forget that Glory’s forgotten by those it protects