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November 11, 2002

Ghosts of the Great War
Posted by Teresa at 11:11 AM *

“We’re not making a sacrifice.
Jesus, you’ve seen this war.
We are the sacrifice.”

Ulster regiment, marching toward the Somme

Eleven eleven has come round again. Have a look at Tony Novosel’s two pages of spooky, evocative photos of Great War memorials:

Painting: Menin Gate: The Ghosts of Ypres

The actual Menin Gate, on which are carved the names of the 54,000 Missing from the Battle of Ypres.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. There are 73,350 names on its panels.

Kathe Kollwitz’ Grieving Parents, near the site where her son and his comrades are buried.

The Silent Sentinels, Langemarck German cemetery in Belgium.

The Sentinels again.

Watching over the German graves at Langemarck.

Le Mort Homme (The Dead Man), Verdun.

Another view. “ILS NONT PAS PASSE” means “They did not pass”.

The Guardians of Verdun.

Wilfred Owen’s grave.

Not pictures: A pertinent selection of Wilfred Owen’s poems. And a bit of Philip Larkin.

The Lost Poets of the Great War website, with its calculation of total casualties.

One of whom was young Umberto Boccioni, Italian Futurist artist. This is his “States of Mind” series: The Farewells. Those Who Go. Those Who Stay. There aren’t many paintings by Boccioni. This is a piece called Unique form of continuity in space. There is even less sculpture by him.

If there are universes with multiple branching timelines, there are thousands of them very much like ours, except that in them no one’s ever heard of J. R. R. Tolkien. The toll of the dead is as difficult to comprehend as the Black Death.

At one point I looked up the history of Tolkien’s unit, the Lancashire Fusiliers. First they significantly distinguished themselves at Gallipoli. Then they significantly distinguished themselves at the Somme. No wonder Tolkien came back from the war saying, “Everyone I know is dead.”

Bad place to make a landing, Gallipoli. A few words from the last surviving ANZAC. And the other last surviving ANZAC.

There is great generosity in the monument to the dead of both sides at Kabatepe Ariburun Beach, inscribed with the speech Ataturk made in 1934 to the first ANZACs and Brits who came back to visit:

Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons front far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land
They have become our sons as well
An affecting, low-key page about New Zealand public memorials: Lest We Forget: War Memorials of the First World War.
The New Zealand war memorials of the First World War have become part of the common fabric of our lives, like stop signs or lamp-posts. Virtually every township in the country has one, usually in the main street. Excluding the many honours boards and plaques in schools and churches throughout the country, there are well over five hundred public memorials to the soldiers of the Great War.

Despite their numbers, the memorials are not boring or stereotypical. This was because New Zealanders showed much inventiveness in remembering the dead of the Great War. By the time the war ended, over 100,000 young New Zealanders had served overseas and some 18,000 had lost their lives. Sacrifice of this magnitude engendered enormous emotions.

One of my two favorites is the Kaitaia memorial, in Maori and English. The other is the annual ceremony at Piha. Every year there, at low tide on Anzac Day, they process out across the sand to lay their wreaths on Lion Rock ; and then the tide comes in and carries the wreaths away.
Comments on Ghosts of the Great War:
#1 ::: slc ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2002, 06:27 PM:

If you're ever anywhere near Ypres/Ieper, I strongly recommend visiting the "In Flanders Fields" museum. Powerful experience.

Ieper itself is impressive because of the sheer rebuilding. Looks just like your average European town with five-hundred-year-old buildings, until you see the photos from just after WWI, when they were rubble; they were rebuilt as closely to the original as the people could manage.

And then there's the Man in the Moon statue in nearby Dixmuide. The original statue had survived all the shelling, and became rather a good-luck piece for the city. Homes, shops, churches might be flattened, but the Man in the Moon was still standing.

The very last shell that hit Dixmuide destroyed it.

I don't know if they used remnants from the original statue to make the new one, but it wouldn't surprise me....


#2 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2002, 08:28 PM:

Been reading about the battle of El Alamein recently for work:
"I knew it was going to happen that night mind you, but it was dramatic all the same. Absolutely dramatic, absolutely quiet, when the signal was passed and somehow, at any rate, it was passed straightaway, simultaneously, right along the Alamein front, until a voice, or whatever it was, some signal, was given, 'Fire', or whatever the word was, and then whether you were a soldier, civilian, whatever you were, suddenly all hell, absolutely cracked and nowhere in any war has there been such a barrage at dawn. Something like 900 field guns along miles and miles of front simultaneously burst into flames. The most dramatic, theatrical thing you had ever seen.
so, after looking at some of the images you had, decided to check out the monuments:
is one, but the Italian monument is really something:

(scroll down)

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2002, 08:39 PM:

My paternal grandfather pronounced that "Wipers." He joined the war before the United States did, volunteering for one of the ambulance corps. I know he was wounded once. I don't think that was the same occasion as the time when a shell hit a hole he was sharing with three other men. It killed two of the men immediately. The third took off running madly across No Man's Land and was never seen again. Grandpa's hearing was damaged, but that was all.

The time he really thought he was going to die, he wasn't even hurt. He was helping another guy carry a patient on a stretcher across a large clearing. Suddenly they were buzzed by a German plane. Grandpa was sure he was about to get machine-gunned; but then the pilot spotted the Red Cross insignia and pulled up. Anyway, that's how he told it.

The time I remember best was him talking about how they marched toward a battle through the most beautiful forest imaginable (Grandpa was a commercial artist and signpainter), but when they marched back out, it had been utterly destroyed: stumps and sticks and mud, nothing more.

Victor Louis Nielsen. I suppose -- I've never thought of it before -- that there are lots of alternate timelines where he never came back to the Midwest and married Hazel Costein. He was a tough old guy, and hung on for a long time. It was a sad day when he could no longer put on his special hat and march with the other geezers on Armistice Day.

#4 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2002, 12:10 AM:

I go to the Remembrance Day service every year I'm hale enough, and this year was the first one I've been to outside Ontario.

They sing 'God Save the Queen' at Remembrance Day services in Vancouver, which was odd, and they played "Recessional", which left the hair on the back of my neck standing up.

It rained, hard, as it so often does, and I think that it is right that it do.

Great Uncle Alvin and Great Uncle Lee were in working in the shipyards at Portsmouth in Hitler's War, and came home intact; Great Granny Trip had 12 brothers in 1913, and 3 in 1919, and of those three, one had a plate in his head and not the wits he'd left home with. I never knew any of them, though I do remember her.

I've had classmates and co-workers and gaming buddies who have gone of to be shot at as peacekeepers, come to that, but so far, they've all come home.

#5 ::: Steve Glover ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2002, 05:45 AM:

When I was travelling this summer, I visited the Ulster Tower (I think you'd recognise it: it's a duplicate of Helen's Tower) and the Thiepval Memorial. I took pictures, but I was using a fairly poor quality digital camera, so I've not webbed them yet.

The statue of Mary on the church tower at Albert had a similar legend to the man-in-the-moon statue, in that both the French and the Germans had gunners who believed that the side that knocked her over would lose the war. The British eventually knocked her down when it became apparent that the Germans were using the statue for ranging and targeting anyway.

#6 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2002, 10:44 AM:

As early preparation for next year, may I recommend Art of the First World War, which I came across while looking for Percy Wyndham Lewis's A Canadian Gun-Pit as an example of the Vorticist school, another movement much influenced by the Great War.

One of my grandfathers had fled his father and was living in Canada at the start of the First World War. He patriotically signed up right away and was in the signal corps until wounded in the leg by an overachieving German machine-gun bullet. After the War, his father either had changed or saw a way to cash in on the shortage of manpower and brought him back into the family.

The other grandfather was in the King's Royal Rifles and, perhaps unfortunately, was on active duty throughout the War. I don't know a whole lot about his service; he was probably in a lot of pain by the time I achieved verbal skills. I suspect he didn't talk much about his time in the trenches anyway. He was exposed to gas, undoubtedly killed men, saw his fellows killed. I don't know if he ever killed with a bayonet, as I gather the KRR might have been a valuable unit with the specialized job of maintaining a very high rate of group firing with good accuracy, and perhaps might not have been used as much for trench assaults as run-of-the-mill British and ANZAC forces.

Incidentally, Boccioni was also the painter of one of my and (if memory serves) Avram Grumer's favourite paintings, Dynamism of a Soccer Player, before the War took him.

#7 ::: Soren deSelby ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2002, 03:40 PM:

You probably remember how much I love that Boccioni triptych, Teresa.

I'm one of eight folks who have Boccioni listed as an interest on livejournal.

#8 ::: Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2002, 12:35 AM:

The German cemetery at Langemarck is even more striking in contrast to the American cemetery in that everything there is done in black: the Sentinels, the gravemarkers, all of it. And most of the gravemarkers are flat, as opposed to the uprights at the brilliantly white, sunlit American site. It's quite literally like day and night.

First time I saw the two, visited on the same day, I said to myself, "Very, =very= different cultures of death and grieving."

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2002, 07:32 PM:

Scraps, of course I remember. That's why I cited those particular paintings.

#10 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2002, 12:28 PM:

The Great War is still within the living memory of some. My parents were born in the 1920's, and heard the stories at first hand from their parents ...

I heard it said somewhere that Vietnam was the first war in which a soldier straight from the front could find himself back home in a city at home within 24 hours, and this caused some degree of cultural dislocation. Whatever: it's not true. For the British army, the first such war was fought from 1914. My mother recounts the story of one of her uncles who, on being gassed at the Somme, was simply sent to the dressing station and put on a boat-train home. He arrived the next day, staggering and in shock, at their home in Southsea, caked in mud and lice from the battlefield. His mother and sisters put him in the bath and began to cut away his putees, but stopped when they found his legs covered in mustard gas blisters; he spent the next six months in hospital (and survived the war).

The political and personal aftershocks are still with us, even today. And, like the American civil war, they'll echo on even after the last post has sounded above the last veteran's grave.

#11 ::: Chip Hitchcock ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2002, 01:29 PM:

pace Eric Bogle and Ted Matthews (one of the "last ANZACS" found by Teresa), I was struck by the visibility of the monuments I saw -- usually in the middle of a large park. The national memorial in Canberra is a huge, gloomy, domed building (IIRC, deliberately somewhat Turkish in appearance) with nothing between it and the Parliament building but water and open ground. (This was especially interesting coming after the furor about the Vietnam memorial in Washington DC being "insufficiently heroic".) I suspect it's a bit harder to speak of war in the abstract when the view out the window could be seen as a mausoleum.

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