Remembrance Day

Poppy_wreath_stockwellIn 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

 

 In the United States today we are celebrating Veterans Day, it is the day we thank our living veterans and serving service people. For Britain and the Commonwealth, it is Remembrance Day is analogous to our Memorial Day which is 30 May. The short form is that it comes from Decoration Day, which in our history was the day on which the veterans of The Grand Army of the Republic decorated the graves of the veterans of our Civil War, it now honors all of our war dead. So for us, Veterans Day honors the living, although if we’re completely honest, both days honor both in the public’s mind.

And for all of us, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the fighting in World War I. And yes, I easily confess that I watched the ceremony at the Cenotaph. Think of that, it was a hundred years ago this morning that the war that we all called the Great War ended. In truth, Europe has never really recovered.

This was the moment when the leadership of the western world became an American responsibility, although we didn’t really recognize that until 1940.

But, we here in the Great Republic are aware that in the last hundred years we have never fought alone, we have, in all our wars (yes, even Vietnam, Thank You Australia) fought beside at least one other member or former member of the British Empire. In most, we have fought together with all of you. And we have been very proud to do so.

I also remember that during the Falklands, that while our government did not feel able to overtly help, for mostly political reasons, the American people, from the President on down, were cheering for you. You guys weren’t the only ones who watched the fleet sail with a tear in your eyes. And if it had been necessary, one of our light carriers, the Iwo Jima, which happened to be in refit, was being readied to be transferred to the Royal Navy. It was your war, as Vietnam was ours, but we know who our friends are.

One lesson we learned from Vietnam, is to honor in all ways and at all times our veterans, and from what I read, it may be a lesson that the cousins have in some measure forgotten, whatever the politics of the war, it was not the fault of the soldiers, no soldier has ever wanted a war. In fact, since we don’t think our government does a good enough job of taking care of ours, we have many volunteer organizations that help them as well.  Always remember them, they gave their lives willingly for your freedom.

As Americans, we are proud that we were able to help defend you, during the Cold War, as the saying went, the Eastern border of the United States was the Elbe River. We meant it and the Soviets knew we meant it, and so we won. It was long, it was very costly, it was boring, it was terrifying, it was many things, it was also our privilege and our duty. But for Britain, it was also the repayment of a debt we owed you. We remember that during the nineteenth century, while we were busy building America (with not a few British ideas, and a lot of British capital, as well) we had proclaimed that new European colonies would not be permitted in the New World. We knew perfectly well that we were completely unable to enforce that, we also knew that Britain, for its own reasons (mostly trade) would.

We are also aware that Britain, and especially the Royal Navy was the major force that ended chattel slavery in western civilization. Sometimes we think you forget how good you have been for the world. Eventually, more than 600,000 Americans would die to end slavery here, and it was worth it, as were your efforts. And that doesn’t even touch upon the longest period of (mostly) peace between major powers, which has come to be called justifiably The Pax Brittanica. Your history in the modern world is something to be very proud of, and we, the rowdy colonials who fought a war against you to preserve our rights as Englishmen, salute you.

But what I really wanted to talk about today are two men, both veterans of the Great War, who won both the American Medal of Honor and one the Victoria Cross as well. Both were posthumous. In fact, they were both awarded in the fall of 1921. One was a soldier of the empire, and one was an American doughboy. This is the story of the British recipient.

FROM THE LONDON TIMES of OCT. 18, 1921

Yesterday morning General Pershing laid the Congressional Medal of Honour on the grave of the Unknown British Warrior in Westminster Abbey. The simple and beautiful ceremony seemed full of the promise of new and happier times. And what we call Nature appeared to have laid her approval on the hopes that it aroused.

That the United States should confer on an unknown British Warrior the highest military honour that can be bestowed by its Government, that jealously guarded and rarely granted Medal of Honour, which can only be won “at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty”; that Congress should pass a special Act enabling this honour to be paid to one who was not a citizen of the United States; that by the request and in the presence of the American Ambassador the medal should be laid upon the tomb by the hand of the great soldier who is now the successor of Washington, Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan as General of the Armies of the United States, and that the ceremony should take place while the eyes of all the world are turned to the coming Congress at Washington.

Here is great matter for pride and hope; and it seemed to be by something more than mere accident or the working of unalterable law that, just at the beginning of the ceremony, the sun should stream down, in its natural gold, through a window not yet painted, upon the Union Jack that was spread at the foot of the Unknown Warrior‘s grave. The ancient mystery of the great Abbey is never wholly dispelled by the light of day. Yesterday, as ever, she preserved her immemorial secrets and her ever brooding silence; yet brightness, colour, confidence were the notes of the ceremony; and, contrasting the sunshine of yesterday with the tragic gloom remembered on other occasions since August, 1914, one could not but believe that the externals matched the inner truth of the act, and that the modern history which, as the Dean of Westminster reminded us, began with the war in which the Unknown Warrior gave his life was about, through him and his like,to bring joy and peace to the world.

With the Union Jack at its foot and the wreaths bestowed about its edge, the stone that temporarily covers the Unknown Warrior’s grave near the west end of the Abbey was bare, save for a little case full of rosaries and sacred emblems that lies at its head. The space about it was shut off from the rest of the Nave by a barrier, through which passed only those who had been specially invited to seats of honour round the grave. The Nave was packed with people facing north and south, and lined with soldiers and sailors of the United States Army and Navy, among them some of General Pershing’s picked battalion, strapping fellows in khaki or blue, who seemed to have all the smartness and the immobility to which we are accustomed in British troops on such occasions.

[…]

Backed by a row of Abbey dignitaries were the Dean of Westminster, the American Ambassador, and General Pershing, standing at the gravehead, and facing up the great church.

At the invitation of the Dean, the American Ambassador then spoke as follows:

“By an Act of the Congress of the United States, approved on March 4 of the present year, the President was authorized “to bestow, with appropriate ceremonies, military and civil, a Medal of Honour upon the unknown unidentified British soldier buried in Westmister Abbey.” The purpose of Congress was declared by the Act itself, in these words: “Animated by the same spirit of comradeship in which we of the American forces fought alongside of our Allies, we desire to add whatever we can to the imperishable glory won by the deeds of our Allies and commemorated in part by this tribute to their unknown dead.”

The Congressional Medal, as it is commonly termed because it is the only medal presented “in the name of Congress,” symbolizes the highest military honour that can be bestowed by the Government of the United States. It corresponds to the Victoria Cross and can be awarded only to an American warrior who achieves distinction “at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.”

A special Act of Congress was required to permit the placing of it upon the tomb of a British soldier. The significance of this presentation, therefore, is twofold. It comprises, in addition to the highest military tribute, a message of fraternity direct from the American people, through their chosen representatives in Congress, to the people of the British Empire.

There were two soldiers. One was British. The other was American. They fought under different flags, but upon the same vast battlefield. Their incentives and ideals were identical. They were patriot warriors sworn to the defence and preservation of the countries which they loved beyond their own lives. Each realized that the downfall of his own free land would presage the destruction of all liberty. Both were conscious of the blessings that had flowed from the English Magna Charta and the American Constitution. Well they knew that the obliteration of either would involve the extinguishment of the other. So with consciences as clear as their eyes and with hearts as clean as their hands they could stand and did stand shoulder to shoulder in common battle for their common race and common cause.There was nothing singular, nothing peculiar, about them. They typified millions so like to themselves as to constitute a mighty host of undistinguishable fighting men of hardy stock. A tribute to either is a tribute to all.

Though different in rank, these two soldiers were as one in patriotism, in fidelity, in honour,and in courage. They were comrades in the roar of battle. They are comrades in the peace of this sacred place.

One, the soldier of the Empire, made the supreme sacrifice, and, to the glory of the country whose faith he kept, he lies at rest in this hallowed ground enshrined in grateful memory. The other, equally noble and equally beloved, is by my side. Both live and will ever live in the hearts of their countrymen.

What more fitting than that this soldier of the great Republic should place this rare and precious token of appreciation and affection of a hundred millions of kinsmen upon the tomb of his comrade, the soldier of the mighty Empire! Proudly and reverently, by authority of the Congress and the President, I call upon the General of the Armies of the United States, fifth only in line as the successor of Washington, Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan, to bestow the Medal of Honour upon this typical British soldier who, though, alas! in common with thousands of others, “unknown and unidentified,” shall never be “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.”

Then General Pershing said:

One cannot enter here and not feel an overpowering emotion in recalling the important events in the history of Great Britain that have shaped the progress of the nations. Distinguished men and women are here enshrined who, through the centuries, have unselfishly given their services and their lives to make that record glorious. As they pass in memory before us there is none whose deeds are more worthy, and none whose devotion inspires our admiration more, than this Unknown Warrior. He will always remain the symbol of the tremendous sacrifice by his people in the world’s greatest conflict.

It was he who, without hesitation, bared his breast against tyranny and injustice. It was he who suffered in the dark days of misfortune and disaster, but always with admirable loyalty and fortitude. Gathering new strength from the very force of his determination, he felt the flush of success without unseemly arrogance. In the moment of his victory, alas! we saw him fall in making the supreme gift to humanity. His was ever the courage of right, the confidence of justice. Mankind will continue to share his triumph, and with the passing years will come to strew fresh laurels over his grave.

As we solemnly gather about this sepulchre, the hearts of the American people join in this tribute to their English-speaking kinsman. Let us profit by the occasion, and under its inspiration pledge anew our trust in the God of our fathers, that He may guide and direct our faltering footsteps into paths of permanent peace. Let us resolve together, in friendship and in confidence, to maintain toward all peoples that Christian spirit that underlies the character of both nations.
And now, in this holy sanctuary, in the name of the President and the people of the United States, I place upon his tomb. the Medal of Honour conferred upon him by special Act of the American Congress, in commemoration of the sacrifices of our British comrade and his fellow-countrymen,and as a slight token of our gratitude and affection toward this people.

On the conclusion of his speech the Congressional Medal of Honour was handed by Admiral Niblack to General Pershing, who, stooping down, laid it on the grave, above the breast of the unknown hero beneath. Shining there, with its long ribbon of watered blue silk, it lay, a symbol of the past, a pledge for the future.

And General Pershing stood at the salute to his fallen comrade.

Which is entirely appropriate as well. As most of my American readers will be aware, any recipient of the Medal of Honor is entitled to be saluted first by all American service members.

[It should also be noted that on Armistice Day that year, by order of the King, the American Unknown Soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross. ]

There is considerably more, here is the link to the entire article from the Times, it is very moving.

After all the speeches and the award the congregation joined in singing

Thiis is as good a point in time as any to mark the point where Britain and the Commonwealth became more than allies, they became our cousins, of which relationship we are very proud.

It has been a very long century since that last quiet August weekend of the Edwardian Age. It has been filled far too often with the roar of the guns, and the rattle of musketry followed by the sounding of the Last Post. But the mission has been maintained, it will never be won, although we can and should pray that it will be less horrific going forward. But all around the world, freedom loving people have learned of the steadfast valor even unto death of English speaking soldiers, sailors, and airmen. We are proud of our part, yes. But we are equally proud to be your allies and friends.

 

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

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 contemn.
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.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon

And in truth, there is an answer to the poem that leads this article

Oh! you who sleep in Flander’s Fields
Sleep sweet-to rise anew
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With all who died
We cherish too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valour led
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flander’s Fields
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught
We’ll teach the lesson that ye taught
In Flander’s Fields

About NEO
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16 Responses to Remembrance Day

  1. the unit says:

    Well, as I’ve said before I’m a vet, not combat. Did what I was told to do. Fifty years ago. And you know where I stand.
    Read a comment early this morning about Trump and the WWI Memorial visit. Commenter said, paraphrasing,… time to forget all this foolishness, stupid wars in Europe and everywhere. Demographics in all the countries have changed. Said I’m Latino, I don’t care.
    That’s all of the comment.
    Matthew 10:29 didn’t mention nutcakes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Btw, it was very sad to see how America generally remembered, or really did NOT remember much of the Tet Offensive, last year for the 50th anniversary! America seems to be losing not only their political reality, but their common sense and the depth of their past great ethos. Again, very sad!

    Liked by 1 person

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