That Wind Blowing and That Tide

cenotaphWhen I was 5 or 6 was the first time I was allowed to go to the funeral home with my parents. The person who had died was my Great Uncle Henry, and yes I knew him although not all that well, I had met him several times at family reunions. He was a very nice, although quiet man, who often seemed to be seeing things the rest of us didn’t. At that age, even if anybody had tried, I would not have understood. At the funeral, another piece emerged.

For in his coffin, he was dressed in the drab of the Doughboy that he had been, back in the Great War. I, of course, didn’t understand it then but I do remember thinking that the wool, especially that high collar, looked very uncomfortable, as well as old-fashioned. As I grew up, I began to read about history, first the great paladins of English History, William the Conqueror, Edward, the Hammer of the Scots, Edward the Black Prince, but also John, and the that was where I found my first hero; William the Marshal of England, 1st Earl of Pembroke, a man true enough to his duty to stand, against his own beliefs, at Runnymede, with the King, whom I felt, then and now, that he detested, because it was his duty. He became a young boy’s first hero in twentieth century America, and now he is still the hero of the old man that boy has become.

But a hundred years ago this week, the world changed beyond comprehension. It happened when Britain declared war on Imperial Germany. Nothing, I think, not even the Reformation so rocked Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. For this is when the old order passed. Merely call the roll of names, once so well-known: Hohenzollern, Romanoff, Habsburg, Vahdettin, all gone forever. By the end of the war Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had turned into Windsor as well. And so this week Sein Mäjestat put away his British uniforms forever, and His Majesty hung up his German ones, to be found a few weeks ago..

Here are the proceedings from the Parliament, as Sir Edward Grey made his statement

It would not be long before Rupert Brooke would write

Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love…

But as the bodies piled up and the word of the horrors came home, to a land where Blenheim Palace had become a convalescent hospital, and the Future Queen Mother a Nurse’s Aide, Brooke’s vision became another far gloomier one, perhaps that of the truest bard of the Anglo-Saxon people, Rudyard Kipling, as he lamented the loss of his only son.

That is, I think a very apt description of the war, “That wind blowing and that tide”, especially for the British, who since time immemorial have been a sea-faring people. But there is another typically English remembrance of the war, the warrior as the gardener.

We see it in the work of J.R.R. Tolkien who served as a First Lieutenant on the Western Front, and where indeed, it has been said.

The Shire must truly be a great realm, Master Gamgee, where gardeners are held in high honour

For Tolkien freely admitted that Sam Gamgee had been based on the English soldiers and batmen that Tolkien himself thought so much superior to himself. And what, other than what we still, all these years later call, “The Front” could have inspired the description of Mordor.

Nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness. The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails on the lands about.

But that brings us back, as we are wont to be brought, to Kipling. And while it is far too long to quote here, I think we should all read one of his short stories, the one entitled The Gardener. Frankly, I do not believe I have ever seen it in print in the United States, although I could easily have missed it. No matter though because it is available online.

Every one in the village knew that Helen Turrell did her duty by all her world, and by none more honourably than by her only brother’s unfortunate child. The village knew, too, that George Turrell had tried his family severely since early youth, and were not surprised to be told that, after many fresh starts given and thrown away he, an Inspector of Indian Police, had entangled himself with the daughter of a retired non-commissioned officer, and had died of a fall from a horse a few weeks before his child was born.

Mercifully, George’s father and mother were both dead, and though Helen, thirtyfive and independent, might well have washed her hands of the whole disgraceful affair, she most nobly took charge, though she was, at the time, under threat of lung trouble which had driven her to the south of France. She arranged for the passage of the child and a nurse from Bombay, met them at Marseilles, nursed the baby through an attack of infantile dysentery due the carelessness of the nurse, whom she had had to dismiss, and at last, thin and worn but triumphant, brought the boy late in the autumn, wholly restored, to her Hampshire home.

All these details were public property, for Helen was as open as the day, and held that scandals are only increased by hushing then up. She admitted that George had always been rather a black sheep, but things might have been much worse if the mother had insisted on her right to keep the boy. Luckily, it seemed that people of that class would do almost anything for money, and, as George had always turned to her in his scrapes, she felt herself justified – her friends agreed with her – in cutting the whole non-commissioned officer connection, and giving the child every advantage. A christening, by the Rector, under the name of Michael, was the first step. So far as she knew herself, she was not, she said, a child-lover, but, for all her faults, she had been very fond of George, and she pointed out that little Michael had his father’s mouth to a line; which made something to build upon.

Continue reading The Gardener here.

And we do owe them to:

At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

For they were not only us, They were the best of us.

English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, French, American, Italian, Anzac, Canadian, German, Austrian, Russian, Turkish, and Japanese, and all the rest. Our world is as it is because of them, Let us see that our use of it honors them as they honored us in their duty.

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

13 Responses to That Wind Blowing and That Tide

  1. I still have one, of one of my grandfathers gabardine infantry dress shirts from WW I. It is in very good condition also. I don’t think he wore this one, and it was used for perhaps inspection? When he died (1970’s), I got to pick thru some of his personal stuff, and chose this, with a few other things. I also keep it covered, but still hanging. I have keep it close all these years!

    Like

    • NEO says:

      Yep, I can easily understand that.

      Like

  2. http://www.royaldublinfusiliers.com/

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    • NEO says:

      Thanks.

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      • I have my share of books on WW1, one of my favorites is a Second so-called impression hardback with dustjacket, (384 pages, almost mint like) May 1956, Gallipoli, by Alan Moorehead (Hamish Hamilton -books-, London). Of course the British and Anzac troops! And I do believe that the Royal Dublin Fusiliers had some men there? And my one grandfathers was at the Somme with some of them. So goes the story.

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        • NEO says:

          They did, that letter that the Duke read (in my link) was from one of them. I think I read that years ago, as well.

          My favorite is till Tuchman’s “Guns of August”.

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        • Yes, in so many ways The Great War, was even more terrible than WW 2, as concerns the life and death in the so-called Trenches, and in ‘No Man’s Land’! But what brutality was seen there, is beyond our senses today! Indeed the first real World War!

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        • NEO says:

          Yes, it surely was. And it was such a surprise in its horror, although there were precursors especially our Civil War as to what it would be like. But we are always ready for the last war.

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        • Indeed the early military objectives of WW 1 were simply 19th century! And perhaps WW 1 saw, for then, even more might and so-called modern industry than ever before? We still find body skeletal remains in the old trench line-grounds there even today! As spent shell’s, etc.

          ‘I’m back again from hell
          With loathsome thoughts to sell;
          Secrets of death to tell;
          And horrors from the abyss.
          – Siegfried Sasson, poet (Royal Welch Fusiliers). Who I believe
          fought at the Somme.

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        • NEO says:

          I think he did, as well.

          WSC said this in 1901:

          “A European war cannot be anything but a cruel, heartrending struggle, which, if we are ever to enjoy the bitter fruits of victory, must demand, perhaps for several years, the whole manhood of the nation, the entire suspension of peaceful industries, and the concentrating to one end of every vital energy in the community. I have frequently been astonished since I have been in this House to hear with what composure and how glibly Members, and even Ministers, talk of a European war. I will not expatiate on the horrors of war, but there has been a great change which the House should not omit to notice. In former days, when wars arose from individual causes, from the policy of a Minister or the passion of a King, when they were fought by small regular armies of professional soldiers, and when their course was retarded by the difficulties of communication and supply, and often suspended by the winter season, it was possible to limit the liabilities of the combatants. But now, when mighty populations are impelled on each other, each individual severally embittered and inflamed—when the resources of science and civilization sweep away everything that might mitigate their fury—a European war can only end in the ruin of the vanquished and the scarcely less fatal commercial dislocation and exhaustion of the conquerors. Democracy is more vindictive than Cabinets. The wars of peoples will be more terrible than those of kings.”

          Apparently, few listened then either.

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        • Great quote!

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        • NEO says:

          Just saw it a few minutes ago over at Powerline, they tend to be great on WSC.

          Like

    • NEO says:

      And a return

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2716425/If-I-bowled-helped-Prince-Harry-reads-poignant-letter-Irish-fusilier-written-weeks-killed-Gallipoli-WW1-ceremony.html?ITO=1490&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490

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