Look forth, once more, with softened heart,
Ere from the field of fame we part;
Triumph and Sorrow border near,
And joy oft melts into a tear.
Alas! what links of love that morn
Has War’s rude hand asunder torn!
For ne’er was field so sternly fought,
And ne’er was conquest dearer bought,
Here piled in common slaughter sleep
Those whom affection long shall weep
Here rests the sire, that ne’er shall strain
His orphans to his heart again;
The son, whom, on his native shore,
The parent’s voice shall bless no more;
The bridegroom, who has hardly pressed
His blushing consort to his breast;
The husband, whom through many a year
Long love and mutual faith endear.
Thou canst not name one tender tie,
But here dissolved its relics lie!
Oh! when thou see’st some mourner’s veil
Shroud her thin form and visage pale,
Or mark’st the Matron’s bursting tears
Stream when the stricken drum she hears;
Or see’st how manlier grief, suppressed,
Is labouring in a father’s breast, -
With no inquiry vain pursue
The cause, but think on Waterloo!" (from "Some Poems" by Sir Walter Scott)
Two poems, a century apart; two poems about War in Belgium. The first is the last stanza of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Field of Waterloo’, the second chosen by grieving parents of a man so young they were still reckoning his age in years and months. But Scott’s ‘The son, whom, on his native shore, The parent’s voice shall bless no more’ is yet blessed by his parents’ ‘trust in Christ to meet again’ and their prayer, ‘Rest in peace’.
The Raid on Zeebrugge was an unsuccessful and bloody attempt to block the port which was used by German U-boats to attack allied shipping. RMLI was the Royal Marines Light Infantry, based in Cheriton where George lies buried.
Was there much progress in a hundred years? Let us pray that all casualties of war may rest in peace, and that all of us now alive may live in peace.
Sir Walter Scott wrote a long poem on the Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815. This extract is from near the end of the epic and is addressed to the Duke of Wellington, Commander of British forces. Scott justifies Wellington’s gallantry as always ‘for public weal’. He has a point when Napoleon’s imperial ambitions are considered. But as we shall see tomorrow, there was and still is another side to conflict; death, injury, bereavement, loss. Hardly Heaven’s decree.
For not a people’s just acclaim, Not the full hail of Europe’s fame, Thy Prince’s smiles, the State’s decree, The ducal rank, the gartered knee, Not these such pure delight afford As that, when hanging up thy sword, Well may’st thou think, “This honest steel Was ever drawn for public weal; And, such was rightful Heaven’s decree, Ne’er sheathed unless with victory!”
It is the late 1930s. War looks inevitable. We break into a discussion that Virginia Woolf is holding with herself – herself as an imaginary male lawyer – on how to prevent war. She asks, ‘Why do men fight?’ She sums up her previous few paragraphs thus:
Here, immediately, are three reasons which lead your sex to fight; war is a profession; a source of happiness and excitement; and it is also an outlet for manly qualities, without which men would deteriorate. But that these feelings and opinions are by no means universally held by your sex is proved by the following extract from another biography, the life of a poet who was killed in the European war: Wilfred Owen.
Already I have comprehended a light which never will filter into the dogma of any national church: namely, that one of Christ’s essential commands was: Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed; but do not kill … Thus you see how pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism.
And among some notes for poems that he did not live to write are these: The unnaturalness of weapons … Inhumanity of war … The insupportability of war … Horrible beastliness of war … Foolishness of war.
from “THREE GUINEAS: A book-length essay” by Virginia Woolf, via Kindle.
Quite what Wilfred Owen would have said in the face of the bullying, outrageous killers of the Third Reich is another question, but he would have had no reason to change his mind about war’s unnaturalness, inhumanity, foolishness and the rest. Has war ever been a contest between two groups of men with no involvement of civilians and their way of life? Of course not.
See also this post and search Agnellus Mirror for Wilfred Owen for more reflections on the Great War.
It is a sobering reflection that opinion divides over whether the carpet bombing of German cities was morally right or even effective, but the young men of bomber command were people of great courage who knew they had every chance of not getting home alive. 55,573 lost their lives, including Henry Allen Litherland of Manchester. Casualties in Bomber Command were the highest of any branch of the British armed forces during the Second World War, and the life expectancy of bomber crews was appallingly short. Their wives and families were also painfully aware of the risks.
Henry Litherland worked at the John Rylands Library in Manchester city centre until he was called up to serve in the RAF in October 1941. He became a bomber pilot, and was decorated twice for bravery.
He was 22 when shot down near Berlin, where he is buried.
Have we not had enough of war? But it doesn’t stop and it doesn’t stop hurting. We are reviewing this book now to allow you to buy it before November begins. There are thirty mini chapters, hence you could choose to read one per day through the month.
Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note: War is a small collection of letters written during various conflicts from ancient times to 2016 and the Iraq war. There is heartbreak here, to know that many of the fighters, willing or reluctant, never returned to friends and family, or went home changed and traumatised by what they had seen and done. ‘Instead of a yellow streak, the men got a mean streak down their backs.’ (p24) ‘All the wounded were killed in a most horrible way … you will see all sorts of accounts in the papers and no end of lies.’ p102.
These letters bring home the reality in a different way to television news. There are always no end of lies, always men who get mean in order to survive but cannot live with themselves later; fighters who endure shell shock and post-traumatic stress.
There’s a special poignancy about the first Christmas of the Great War, when men from England and Germany came together between the front lines, in all friendship, ‘but of course it will start and tomorrow we shall be at it hard killing one another’. (p80)
Go and buy this little book, read and pay attention. The human beings, the animals, the environment devastated by war are depicted truthfully, for these letters were written not for publication but to friends and family, sons and daughters, mothers, wives and partners, friends on the same or opposite sides; officials to officials.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
In 2017 Pope Francis had this fountain disconnected because of a water shortage in Rome. In this section of Laudato Si he tackles the problems of water poverty.
28. Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Sources of fresh water are necessary for health care, agriculture and industry. Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences in the short and long term. Large cities dependent on significant supplies of water have experienced periods of shortage, and at critical moments these have not always been administered with sufficient oversight and impartiality. Water poverty especially affects Africa where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts which impede agricultural production.
29. One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality. Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls.
Detergents and chemical products continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas.
30. In some places there is a growing tendency to privatise this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.
31. Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use. Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.
This post links to the Missio website, and tells how Missio (formerly APF) supported a seminary on the front line of a civil war in Cameroon.
In 2020, you reached out to seminarians at St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Bambui, where armed conflict continues to rage between the military and the rebel ‘Amba Boys’.
The Rector, Fr Ignatius, shared with us:
‘In 2020, the armed conflict did not disturb us much, except for the times when the gun battles were on the highway that runs right in front of the Seminary. At such times, all the members of the community stayed in the backyard, using the buildings as cover’.
About the time the Quakers were migrating to North America, many other people were doing the same, in the case of Hebridean Islanders, it was poverty in the aftermath of the 1745 civil war that drove them away. Dr Johnson and James Boswell visited the Isle of Skye in 1773, soon after the process started; they were made welcome, but part of the entertainment was a sobering reminder of this. Here is Boswell (with his sometimes antique spellings):
In the evening the company danced as usual. We performed, with much activity, a dance which, I suppose, the emigration from Sky has occasioned. They call it America. Each of the couples, after the common involutions and evolutions, successively whirls round in a circle, till all are in motion; and the dance seems intended to shew how emigration catches, till a whole neighbourhood is set afloat.
Mrs. M’Kinnon told me, that last year when a ship sailed from Portree for America, the people on shore were almost distracted when they saw their relations go off, they lay down on the ground, tumbled, and tore the grass with their teeth. This year there was not a tear shed. The people on shore seemed to think that they would soon follow. This indifference is a mortal sign for the country.
From “Life of Johnson, Volume 5, by James Boswell, via Kindle.
And a mortal sign for any country today whose more enterprising citizens feel the need to leave all they have known for a perilous journey to a land where they may not be as welcome as they might hope. War still drives people from their homes.
Let’s pray for peace in our time and for the casualties of war.
In March 1945, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli was sent from Istanbul to become the new Papal Nuncio or Ambassador to France, a country on its knees after years of occupation. A heavy and unexpected responsibility. A few years later, on the death of Pius XII, he would be elected as Pope John XXIII. This reflection is from his Spiritual Journal.
I must not disguise from myself the truth: I am definitely approaching old age. My mind resents this and almost rebels, for I still feel so young, eager, agile and alert.But one look in my mirror disillusions me. This is the season of maturity; I must do more and better, reflecting that perhaps the time still granted to me for living is brief, and that I am drawing near to the gates of eternity. This caused Hezekiah to turn to the wall and weep. (2 Kings 20:2) I do not weep.
No, I do not weep, and I do not even desire to live my life over again, so as to do better. I entrust to the Lord’s mercy whatever I have done, badly or less than well, and I look to the future, brief or long as it may be here below, because I want to make it holy and a source of holiness for others.
John XXIII (1965), Journal of a Soul, London, Geoffrey Chapman, p264
‘Leave it in the hands of the Lord’ is a good motto at any age, so long as you have something to leave there. Maybe the older we get, the more aware we are of our shortcomings and the wilted state of our offerings. We lose the spontaneity of the toddler who gives mother a daisy flower, just picked with no stem but accompanied by a beatific smile. He knows she will accept his gift; the old man can see the imperfection in both gift and giver, yet he gives back to the one who gives all.
John McCrae was a Canadian military doctor during the Great War. He is best known for his poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. This post describes an incident he witnessed 105 years ago, on 1 June. It is from the introductory material selected by his editor.
“Tuesday, June 1st, 1915.
1-1/2 miles northeast of Festubert, near La Bassee. Last night a 15 pr. and a 4-inch howitzer fired at intervals of five minutes from 8 till 4; most of them within 500 or 600 yards—a very tiresome procedure; much of it is on registered roads.
In the morning I walked out to Le Touret to the wagon lines, got Bonfire, and rode to the headquarters at Vendin-lez-Bethune, a little village a mile past Bethune. Left the horse at the lines and walked back again. An unfortunate shell in the 1st killed a sergeant and wounded two men; thanks to the strong emplacements the rest of the crew escaped.
In the evening went around the batteries and said good-bye. We stood by while they laid away the sergeant who was killed. Kind hands have made two pathetic little wreaths of roses; the grave under an apple-tree, and the moon rising over the horizon; a siege-lamp held for the book. Of the last 41 days the guns have been in action 33.
Captain Lockhart, late with Fort Garry Horse, arrived to relieve me. I handed over, came up to the horse lines, and slept in a covered wagon in a courtyard. We were all sorry to part—the four of us have been very intimate and had agreed perfectly—and friendships under these circumstances are apt to be the real thing.
From “In Flanders Fields and Other Poems” by John McCrae.