Today is Remembrance Sunday, the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in the First World War at 11 a.m.on November 11 th. in 1918 and when the dead of all wars are remembered. The Day is chiefly commemorated in the U.K. but as over 200,000 Irish served with the British army and an estimated 35,000 + died in the war ,there are also services of remembrance in this country. The Royal British Legion who look after the interests of war veterans and their families sell the ‘poppy’ badge at this time and this has been a bone of contention here going back over the years ,as for some the ‘poppy’ represents British Imperialism and is anathema to full blooded Republicans. The counter argument is that the Remembrance activities are not glorifying the conflict but honouring and remembering those who died in this most bloody war. My own grand-uncle ,Jack Kelly died in the war and is listed on the roll of honour at Flanders Field in Belgium. Like many other young men at the time, he enlisted in the Dublin Fusiliers and left his home at Shanakyle near Larkin’s Cross in Limerick, to fight in the ‘ war that was to end all wars’. He fell in battle at the age of 37 leaving behind his wife and two children, Alice and Mary. He was one of many Irish who joined the British Army for several reasons. Some joined spurred on by Home Rule campaigner John Redmond, in the hope (vain as it turned out) that after the war Britain would reward Irish involvement by granting home rule to Ireland. Some, I’m sure joined for the adventure and romance of army life (as it was then perceived!) and many joined to get a job in a depressed economic climate. 8,556,315 troops from all countries died in the war while the total number of people killed during WW1 (including civilians) is 16.5 million, making it one of the bloodiest conflicts in history. Many of the men who survived action at the front witnessed all the horrors of war and some were permanently scarred emotionally as a consequence, one such soldier was Wilfred Owen who suffering from ’shell shock’, was confined to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. While there, in October of 1917 Owen began to reflect on all he had seen and experienced at the front and wrote this poem as a lament for the huge wastage of young lives cut down in the conflict.
What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choir,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.