30 May 2008

"In Flanders Fields"

"In Flanders Fields"

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.

This poem was written 3 May 1915 by Canadian physician Lieut Col John McCrae, after he witnessed the death of a friend the day before. It gets posted a lot around 11 November - Veterans Day in the United States, Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and other countries. The date, of course, commemorates the end of World War I.

I was reminded of this poem by a string of other posts I've written this year, as veterans of that war die. The "bad guys" in World War I were the three nations known as the Central Powers: Germany, the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, and Austria-Hungary. Erich Kästner, a retired judge believed to be the last German veteran of WW I*, died on 1 Jan 08. Yakup Satar, the last Turkish veteran, died on 2 Apr 08. And Franz Künstler, the last Austro-Hungarian veteran (he was born in a town which is now part or Romania), died earlier this week, on 27 May.

To begin with, the "good guys" were the three nations of the Triple Entente - the UK, France and Russia - but they were joined by the rest of the British Empire and by many other countries as the war progressed, including Italy and the US. Lazare Ponticelli, an Italian who served with the French Foreign Legion, was the last French veteran of the war; he died on 12 Mar 08. (The last actual Frenchman who served in the war was Louis de Cazenave, who died on 20 Jan 08.) The last known Russian veterans died in 2004: Boris Klovsky (who also served in WW II) on 1 June and Stanislaw Solinski (a Pole who served in the Russian army) on 6 December.

According to Wikipedia**, there are now only eleven surviving World War I veterans:
Henry Allingham, 111, is the last survivor from the Royal Naval Air Service (which combined with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force in 1918). He's also the last known survivor of the Battle of Jutland, having started out in the surface fleet, and is currently listed by the GRG as the oldest man in Europe, the second-oldest person in England and the 20th-oldest person in the world.

Henry Patch, 109, served in the British Army (the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry), and is the last veteran to have served in the trenches on the Western Front.

Gladys Powers, 109, served with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and the Women's Royal Air Force. She is the last known female veteran of the Great War.***

Sydney Lucas, 107, also served in the British Army (the Sherwood Foresters), though he was still in training at the end of the war and did not see action.

William Stone, 107, served in the Royal Navy; he also was still in training when the war ended.

Claude Choules, 107, served in the Royal Navy. (He emigrated to Australia after the war, and served with the Royal Australian Navy in World War II.)

Delfino Borroni and Francesco Chiarello, both 109, served in the Italian army. (Chiarello also served in WW II.)

John Ross, 109, is the last surviving Australian veteran; he served in the Australian army.

John Babcock, 107, who went overseas with the Canadian army but did not see action, is the last surviving Canadian veteran.

Frank Buckles, 107, the last US veteran of the war, served in France with the US Army.

This article from Wikipedia lists the last surviving WWI veteran from each country that took part in the war.

* "Believed to be," because Germany doesn't keep track of veterans the way other countries do.
** The usual caveats concerning Wikipedia articles apply.
*** The last female veteran from the US, Charlotte Winters, died 27 Mar 07.

Click on the "Poetry Friday" button at left for this week's round-up, which is hosted by Elaine at Wild Rose Reader. (Susan, of Susan Writes, has done a round-up of previous round-ups here.)

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