On the 99th year of the world’s start to the greatest of tragedies, Lerwick’s Hillhead bathed in soothing November light. Men, women and children congregated in the highest part of the archipelago’s capital to pay homage to all those affected by all conflicts, past and present.
The Remembrance Sunday Parade always begins with pipers & their band. Young cadets follow suite. Flags go up and silence prevails until someone in uniform takes the floor.It is poignant.
Ninety nine years and all generations still gather as one to celebrate their heroes. In France, it is called le travail de la mémoire, the duty to remember. And this we must. I still remember the yearly school trips to the monument aux morts, where so many names are engraved in marble. Many young Shetlanders gave their lives in so many different conflicts. We do not forget. Such sentiment is even amplified when the community is that small. Entire communities have bled the same way, however big or small. In the case of The Great War, it engulfed the planet for the first time. We must not forget all those who, in the name of an empire, found themselves in a forest so dark and alien, they did not know the name of its trees – in a trench filled with mud and rats from a different continent. Today, all participants are no longer with us. Wherever we breathe, stand and live, we must not forget, not only all those accounted souls, but also those who vanished without trace, who fell blind-folded to a firing squad because they either deemed “deserters and/or cowards” or those who were stigmatised with a white feather as “anti-patriotic” by a propaganda machine orchestrated to bleed entire nations in the name of madness.
Nobody (as you & me) wants war.
A few days earlier, as part of Remembrance Week at my local High School, Wilfred Owen‘s most famous poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, resonated in all classrooms & corridors.
Dulce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
NOTES: Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
Source: Poems (Viking Press, 1921)
Tomorrow, Monday 11 November, on the 11th hour of the 11th month, a ceremony will commemorate all those young Shetlanders, local pupils from the AHS (the then Anderson Institute) who gave their lives in the name of “a war of attrition“.
I still believe Owen’s poem should be plastered on every government building to remind all of the atrocities of conflicts.