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War diary 1917-1919, al letter to grandchildren

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BerichtGeplaatst: 06 Nov 2006 10:51    Onderwerp: War diary 1917-1919, al letter to grandchildren Reageer met quote



"House of Thorburn"

21 April 1968

My dear Grandchildren,

Fifty years ago this month - in April 1918 - I was involved, south of Ypres in Flanders, in battles in which Scottish and South African infantry regiments helped to stem a furious German onslaught and so to save the Channel ports. So I thought it an appropriate time to set out for you my own experiences in these April battles. Then it occurred to me that it might be of interest to you, when you are grown up, to read a first hand account of some of the doings of the once-famous 9th (Scottish) Division in the 21 months during which I had the honour of serving in it in the Great War of 1914-1918. The letters I wrote home at the time (to my mother and sister) have been preserved. However they give practically no information about my experiences, because we were not allowed to describe the war, or even to say where we were at any particular time. My account deals with "old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago", so it may well seem pretty 'old hat', and even antediluvian, to you. If these pages survive for 50 years and you turn them over then, the events described will be as far back for you as the battle of Waterloo was for me in 1915!

My account is documented and illustrated by maps - but if you don't want to follow events in detail you can simply read through the manuscript foolscap sheets.

You may well ask: Why was this "Great War" so important? What was it all about? Why was there such a tremendous voluntary response to recruiting for the Armed Forces, not only in Great Britain but in the Dominions and in Ireland?

As a war, it was historically important because it was the first 'total war', that is to say the first major conflict in which the whole of the populations of the opposing powers became involved either as combatants or as workers in nationally controlled industries supplying the sinews of War.

Britain, quite unprepared for a land war on a large scale, declared war on Germany because the Germans violated the neutrality of Belgium, which they and Britain had both guaranteed. The Germans referred to the treaty of guarantee as "a scrap of paper", and thought that its existence should not for a moment be allowed to stand in the way of German ambitions to crush and humiliate France. Moreover, in over-running Belgium the Germans adopted ruthless and brutal measures against any civilians who attempted to oppose their arrogant demands. All this horrified the people of Britain and the Dominions, for in 1914 there was a general idea that barbarous aggressive warfare was a thing of the past, and that with the help of modern science and democratic enlightenment, the world was entering a period of peace and social betterment.

G.S.Duncan, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig's personal Chaplain, writing in 1966 (Douglas Haig as I Knew Him, p.13) sums up the matter well; he says

"We had imagined ourselves then [in 1914] to be living in an age of enlightenment; and that a civilized nation like Germany should wantonly provoke a war with her European neighbours came as a shock both to the intelligence and to the conscience. The nation sprang at once to arms; so too did the peoples of the British Empire. There is no adequate parallel in history, before or since, to the upsurge of stern resolution that the need aroused. The response came from every section of the community. And it was for long an entirely voluntary response: despite the desperate character of the struggle, conscription was not introduced till two years later. Above all there was an idealistic ardour, a sense of unity, and a comradeship which a later generation has found it hard to understand."

Kipling, writing over 50 years before Duncan, in 1914, forcefully expressed the nation's mood � (although he spoke for England!)

"For all we have and are,
For all our children's fate,
Stand up and meet the War,
The Hun is at the gate!
Our world has passed away,
In wantoness o'erthrown.
There is nothing left today
But steel, and fire and stone.

Though all we knew depart,
The old commandments stand,
'In courage keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand.'

Once more we hear the word,
That sickened earth of old:
"No law except the sword
Unsheathed and uncontrolled.'
Once more it knits mankind,
Once more the nations go
To meet and break and bind
A crazed and driven foe.

Comfort, content, delight.
The ages' slow-bought gain.
They shrivelled in a night.
Only ourselves remain
To face the naked days
In silent fortitude
Through perils and dismays
Renewed and re-renewed.

Though all we made depart
The old commandments stand:
'In patience keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand.'

No easy hopes or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will and soul.
There is but one task for all -
For each one life to give.
What stands if freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?"

Duncan also says (pp.13-14) "Some thing of the original elation was lost in the awful conditions of the fighting around Ypres and in the Somme valley; but the idealism remained. This was a war to end war forever". And again (pp.46-47) "Such idealism is not readily appreciated by a generation that has grown weary of war, and recoils from the very thought of it. If it was war-fever, it was the war-fever of peace-loving men: fighting and dying, as they dared to believe, so as to end war forever. Rightly or wrongly German militarism was seen, not merely as a threat to British national interests, but as an offence to the conscience of all who cared greatly for the basis of Christian civilisation."

Duncan is correct in saying that, as the war went on and the terrible death-roll grew and grew, there was some disillusionment, discouragement, and even defeatism. But I believe these reactions were confined to a minority - those of brittle moral fibre - and that the great majority of those at home and in the armed forces still felt that, whatever the cost, there could be no compromise in dealing with the German menace.

I like to think that Will Y Darling's reaction (you will hear more about him in my narrative) represents that of the average man. Darling was a pretty tough character who had knocked about in many parts of the world. He had served in the infantry in the abortive Gallipoli campaign, in which he was seriously injured, and after long spells in hospitals had fought in France and Belgium in 1917 (including the Passchandaele offensive); but he was not dismayed. I well remember that one morning in 1918, on meeting me, he took off his tin hat [steel helmet], extracted a scrap of paper from its lining, and said "Listen to this": he then read John McCrae's moving poem "In Flanders' Fields". Here it is :-

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 blow
In Flanders' fields.

John McCrae was a Canadian Medical Officer.

After the Great War was won there was indeed widespread disillusionment. It soon became clear that war had not been outlawed. The soldiers had kept faith but, the politicians - in particular the American politicians, who repudiated the League of Nations - did not. The bombastic Mussolini led Italy unchecked to war and an unrepentant and arrogant Germany, under Hitler, was allowed to rise again and launch another attack on humanity - an attack in which their bestial brutality knew no bounds. As Kipling has said, the Germans "Because they feared no reckoning, would set no bounds to wrong."

My dears, I hope neither you nor your children will have to fight another war to defend the basis of Christian civilisation - but if you do, hold high the torch that was passed on in Flanders' fields so long ago!

God bless you:

Your loving

Pampa Archie

Lees zijn dagboek op:



Kerst-cartoon kaart:


De streek rond Ieper:

The German rush across the Yser-Ypres canal has been checked at Lizerne and opposite Boesinghe. Within the area of the battle, are Steenstraate, Het Sast, Pilkem, St. Julien, and Langemarck, all of which the Germans claim to have captured. The battle continues on the right bank of the canal and at St. Julien.
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Geregistreerd op: 2-2-2005
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BerichtGeplaatst: 12 Nov 2009 7:46    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Dit topic eens op de juiste plek gezet, stond ergens achteraf.
Alle linkjes werken nog, leeswaardig verhaal.
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