Poetry & The Great War, a series: 6 Victory?

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¨One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing, that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one ¨.

On the 11 th day of the 11th month in the Year of Our Lord 1918 the Great War came to an end and the guns fell silent on the Western Front. Initially there was a jubliant celebration throughout the country. It was accompanied by a tremendous sense of relief that the war to end all wars was finally over. It was time to take stock of what had brought this bloody conflict into being, how it had been fought and most important the long term effect of the war on the nation as a whole. The survivors returned home, many of whom bore the scars and wounds of incessant butchery and slaughter. Men disfigured for life, limbs lost, many terminal conditions and those psychologically damaged by the vehemence of the war. Hospitals were full to capacity as thousands returned from France and other parts of the globe.

The Germans, who had launched an offensive in the last year of the war had been repelled. Their Navy refused to leave port and fight. The people were close to starvation- The Kaiser abdicated and took refuge in the Netherlands. The allies were determined that Germany should pay heavily for the war that they had brought about. King George V called his cousin the Kaiser the  ¨Greatest War Criminal in History ¨and the Prime Minister of the Day Lloyd George wanted the Kaiser to be hanged.

Many writers and Poets had lost their lives during the conflict but their work endures. Those who survived returned home to continue to write. There was no sense of victory in their verse, no celebratory language. They were determined to express their feelings and the mood of the nation, especially those responsible for the conduct of the war and the bereaved. World War One Memorials and cenotaphs were erected in nearly town and village of the land in churches, public buildings, factories, railway stations, colleries and schools. More than 60,000 in all. Stark reminders of the cost of the war in human terms.

Here a few poets who wrote at the time of victory and immediately after the Armistice:

Lord Dunsnay  -  The Dirge of Victory

Osbert Sitwell -  This Generation

A E Housman -  Here dead we lie

Rudyard Kipling - Common Form

           ¨                  A Dead Statesman

Wilfrid Gibson -  Back

Wilfrid Owen   -  Dulce et decorum est Pro Patria  mori

Read the words of Siegfried Sassoon in his poem ¨On Passing the New Menin Gate ¨. In this poem you will discover his opinion of this Great War Memorial...... a sepulcre of shame.

The British Empire lost one and a half million men and women dead. 8 million horses, mules and donkeys with the British Force were killed. The survivors, the casualties lived on for years and through other generations. The war had scarred the nation.

In his "Poem For the Fallen" Laurence Binyon writes, ¨ They shall not grow old as 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 ¨.

◄ None Of My Business: Jade Cuttle talks to Jo Burns

Wilfred Owen and the Poetry of Trauma ►

Comments

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keith jeffries

Tue 20th Nov 2018 08:38

MC.,

Thank you for introducing the subject of mercenaries. In the early 1970´s whilst on secondment to the Armed Forces of the Sultanate of Oman I served alongside men who were ´on contract ´, as soldiers, seamen and airmen. These men considered themselves to be professional soldiers and indeed they were as many came from eilte regiments and Corps of various foreign armies. These men were not soley there for monetary gain but enjoyed being soldiers. Their contribution certainly influenced the outcome of the local conflict which secured the place of the Sultan. Whether they considered the moral implications of such service, one would have to ask them individually, but on the whole I would say that they were well intentioned.

Perhaps the moral responsibility for employing mercenaries comes from those who pay them. However, you raise a good point.

Thank you as always

Keith

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M.C. Newberry

Mon 19th Nov 2018 21:35

Keith - the mercenary (soldier for hire) has always been a feature of warfare Many of the armies that won on famous battlefields had
their share of mercenaries in the ranks -and it may be that had it not
been for their presence certain outcomes would have been very different. Ireland had its "Wild Geese" - and there are surely
histories of other lands with disaffected fighting men willing to offer themselves out to a military bidder for whatever reason that was
acceptable to them at the time.

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keith jeffries

Sun 18th Nov 2018 09:48

MC.,

Thank you for your comment which is thought provoking indeed. I also question the motive of the private individual for going to war, especially if the conflict has little to do with our national defence and instead some foreign venture which has spin off benefits for us, such as the acquisition of natural resources or greater influence in a strategic part of the globe.

Thank you again

Keith

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M.C. Newberry

Sun 18th Nov 2018 01:29

We can be forgiven for thinking that war is mainly indulged in by/for
vested interests in the western world, but it is highly likely that any
close scrutiny of the subject will reveal conflicts occurring with
unremitting frequency across the globe over countless documented
centuries. It's just that the mechanised advances that our progress
(?) saw in action in the past century or more, plus the advances of
news gathering on a huge scale have brought wars large and little
into increasing numbers of homes and lives - and the habit of
going to war is still active somewhere, even as I tap this out on my PC in the early hours of a peaceful English Sunday. With all the
experience of loss this nation has endured in the two world wars,
we still march off to "foreign fields" and justify it by resort to treaty
and friendship against aggression. Certainly, practice makes
perfect in a bloody sense and the reputation of the UK as a fighting
force to be reckoned with may - just may - have deterred some
distant conflicts getting too far out of hand and descending into
uncontrolled barbarism and bloodshed.
As for myself, I'm looking forward to reports of our intrepid women
soldiers taking part in the tests to join the SAS - assuming these
haven't been changed/reduced to allow their acceptance! The
phrase "soldiers in skirts" previously applicable to the Scottish
ranks may take on a new more modern meaning from hereon!! 😃

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keith jeffries

Sat 17th Nov 2018 10:17

MC.,

I read with interest your comment which I also thank you for. Your use of the word handmaiden is very accurate indeed when summarising those who exploit war and gain from it. When considering both world wars in terms of cause and effect, there were no winners. Both conflicts ended in the slaughter of millions and a continent in ruins. Both victors and vanquished were forced to rebuild at immense cost leaving people to grieve for the loss of loved ones. If there are any winners then they are in the boardrooms.

Thank you again

Keith

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M.C. Newberry

Fri 16th Nov 2018 18:46

Sometimes, Remembrance and Celebration appear to jar
in the context of commemorations about warfare.
The first is to bring back to mind the bravery, sacrifices and stoicism that were called for.
The second is to be grateful for what was delivered to
those who survived and the generations that followed.
War is the handmaiden and servant of many masters who
seek to profit from it. We owe it to ourselves to reduce
their power and influence in that direction whenever possible. The tragedy is, of course, that any such action
usually serves their own nefarious intentions through the
responsive act of resistance - ergo war by any other name.

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keith jeffries

Mon 12th Nov 2018 11:01

Greg,

Thank you for your comments. I was aware of Owen´s death being only days before the Armistice but included his poetry, as by the time victory dawned he had drawn his own conclusions on the war which were certainly at variance with the Government and strongly influenced by Sassoon and others. As you rightly say misquotes are bound to occur especially in verses which gain prominence and are frequently used, yet this does not detract from their significance.

Thank you again,
Keith

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Greg Freeman

Mon 12th Nov 2018 10:21

Good to include Wilfred Owen on your roll-call of poets who wrote at the time of victory and immediately after the Armistice, Keith. Although we should remember that Owen was actually killed on November 4, 1918, a week before the Armistice; his parents received their telegram as the victory bells rang out in Shrewsbury. I also recently discovered that the Binyon poem 'For The Fallen' is almost invariably misquoted. The line is "They shall grow not old ..." NOT "They shall not grow old ..." https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57322/for-the-fallen I heard the misquote three times yesterday, at two separate commemorative events! An example of a poem being rewritten in the popular imagination.

https://www.writeoutloud.net/public/blogentry.php?blogentryid=82294

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