On November 11th in 2014 I had a chance to visit the WWI graveyards in Flanders. In case you may be unaware, November 11th is Veteran’s Day for Americans and Remembrance Day for much of the rest of the English speaking world. It marks the end of WWI which ended at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month.
150 cemeteries surround the Belgium city of Ieper. Nearly 500,000 soldiers from 50 nations died within a few miles of Ieper nearly 100 years ago from 1914-1919.
Many of the graves hold wreaths or crosses with blood-red poppies on them. The poppy became associated with those who died on the fields of Flanders through the poem “In Flanders Field” by Canadian John McCrae.
In Flanders Field
by John McCrae
In 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.
Ieper, Belgium holds a nightly ceremony at the Menin gate remembering the fallen from WWI. The ceremony is held each night at the gate which was constructed to hold a list of 55,000 names of soldiers from the Commonwealth whose final resting place is unknown. The actual number grew to closer to 90,000 names so the list is continued on a memorial at nearby Tyne Cot Cemetery. 4 buglers play Last Post and then wreaths are laid at the memorial. It is a moving ceremony.
I was struck with the tremendous loss of life in the conflict and yet the very marshal air of the Flanders Field poem to “take up our quarrel with the foe”. I wondered if it might be time to update the poem a bit and so I present below “Flanders Field Revisited”, inspired by my visit.
Flanders Field Revisited
by Chris Christensen
For glory and for honor they march into the fray
With confidence, their joyous war will end by Christmas Day
They march against the boche, the frogs, the limeys, and the huns
Their strong contempt a poor defense against the Vickers guns
With iron shells they till the fields, with gas they stain its sky
Their bright hopes mired in Flanders mud, they live, they bleed, they die
Their youth is ground to misery, their bravery they sow
In Flanders fields, they leave their dead in row on row on row
Their bones cry out for options lost, the bravery of peace
Their prayer as ours that in their name all future war shall cease