Tag Archives: Real War Poetry

Fun Friday Fact #18

Due to an oversight at the end of the First World War, Andorra found itself engaged in two world wars at the same time.

The tiny Pyrenean state’s name was omitted from the Treaty of Versailles (1919), meaning that the 11-man national army remained technically at war with Germany. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 placed too much of a strain on the Andorran resources. The beleaguered country hastily signed a private treaty with Germany, finally concluding the First World War and confirming its neutrality in the Second. In benching itself for the second global conflict, Andorra joined a long line of heroes including Ireland, Switzerland and those once mighty empires of Spain and Portugal.

Note: neutral status provided no guarantees from attack. For example Britain invaded the neutral Iceland, whilst Hitler was quick to take over the low countries and add them to his treasure chest.

That was fun now, wasn’t it? I’m sorry to inform you, my beloved readers, that this will be my final Fun Friday Fact. It’s been real, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey, but I want to turn my attention elsewhere. I know you’ll understand. Goodbye, friends, goodbye.

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Filed under The Second World War - Fun Friday Facts, Trivia

Fun Friday Fact #12

The first Allied shot of the First World War was fired by the Australian coaster Woniora. By coincidence, the first Allied shot in the Far Eastern theatre of the Second World War was fired at the same ship.  

A pretty remarkable state of affairs, I think you’ll agree.

On August 5th 1914, the UK having declared war on Germany only the day before, the Woniora fired on the German steamer Pfalz (not to be confused with the manufacturer of German planes) when it attempted to leave Australian waters. The Pfalz was captured and served out the rest of the war the Australian troopship HMT Boorara.

Then on September 3rd 1939, the Woniora was fired upon by a (n Allied) twin 6-inch gun emplacement at Point Nepean, the entrance to Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. The ship’s commander, Captain F. N. Smale, had ignored orders to heave-to for inspection.

If you’re interested, the first shot of the Second World War in Europe was fired at 4:47am on the morning of September 1st 1939 (thats 20 years, 9 months, 19 days and 18 hours after the last shot of the First World War) from the 13,000 ton German gunnery training battleship Schleswig Holstein. The target was the ‘Westerplatte,’ an area of Danzig, now Gdansk, containing Polish troop barracks, munitions storage and workshops.

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Thoughts on the Birdsong BBC TV Series

So there we have it, the highly anticipated TV adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong. Let’s not mess around; I loved it, and here’s why…

First things first, in my opinion the casting was spot on. For those of you who haven’t read the book, Stephen is not your stereotypical protagonist. He’s a bit strange, and not all that likeable. Indeed, I believe the reader is only supposed to get along with him enough that they keep reading.  Now I was worried that, in an effort to appeal to a wider audience, the BBC might cast as Stephen some sort of smile-happy, hunky fool. A real Brad Pitt / George Clooney nightmare, brandishing a gun in each hand and screaming, “Where’s the Hun, let me at em!” Imagine my delight, therefore, when I saw Eddie Redmayne pouting intensely at me from my TV screen. And the other characters were equally well cast. Clémence Poésy cut an attractive but frustrating Isabelle, and Marie-Josée Croze, who played her sister, Jeanne, was not too young (which would have been a fatal mistake) but just about young enough. Richard Madden, who played Captain Weir, starred in Game Of Thrones, so all is good there and Joseph Mawle was a legend as Firebrace. Yes, very well done all round.

Second things second, it was shot beautifully, although it must be admitted that I don’t know anything about that sort of thing. Much as I enjoyed the visuals, however, I could not overlook the fact that the depiction of the trench systems at the Somme wasn’t quite right. For one thing, that area of France would not have been so arid. The place was made to look as though it were somewhere in North Africa. Indeed, one fully expected to skip forward one World War and witness Monty flying in his Grant tank in pursuit of the fleeing Rommel. I can’t for the life of me think why it was decided to go for such a dry set-up, seeing as it had been raining in the run up to the BEF’s offensive.

There’s no point harping on about this any more. So third things third, I found the amended timeline much more engaging than the timeline in the book. Birdsong is split into three different periods – quite simply before, during and after the war. I must confess I actually found the book rather boring when it wasn’t following Stephen at war. I think it was an inspired idea to make 1916-18 ‘the present’ and deal with other events by means of flashback. It gave centre stage to the war in a way in which the book did not.

Fourth things fourth (and last things last) the crucial ‘over the top’ scene was done well. Faulks’ account of the first day of the Somme is second in my mind only to Erich Maria Remarque’s peerless All Quiet On The Western Front as a depiction of men at war. No other piece of writing has brought me closer to the action. It is a long time since I’ve read Birdsong, but I felt as though nothing was missing from the BBC’s adaptation. The preliminary exposition, where Stephen tells his Colonel (and the audience) about the difficulties the BEF has in store (up hill, in plain sight of German machine-guns etc.), only for his quiet common-sense to be drowned out by the Colonel’s ignorant calls of cowardice, was perfect. The behaviour of the men on the eve of battle seemed authentic to my eyes, and from Stephen’s commanding officer, Captain Gray (played by Matthew Goode) there came that awful sense of playing one’s part, whatever the consequences. The comment, ‘my boys, my poor boys’ – made by somebody I took to be an army chaplain (but it could well have been one of the diggers, or someone else entirely) – summed up the whole terrible business brilliantly.

It is difficult to do justice to the scale of the disaster that was the first day of the Somme. It is the worst day in the history of the British Army. The facts and figures – 60,000 casualties on July 1st – scarcely scratch the surface. As the event recedes further into history, a great deal of historical effort has gone into showing how the Somme, for all its obvious failures, was an overall success. After all, the German Field Army was ruined, and it made a hasty withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. But even if the offensive itself can be shown in a positive light, the horrors faced by the men who took part in it must never be forgotten. Such accounts of the war as Birdsong – which last night completed an untroubled transfer from book to TV – help to ensure that the memories of their sacrifice endure. It was a thoughtful and honest adaptation, and I encourage all who didn’t watch it to give it a go. You must also read it, of course…

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Filed under Rants, Raves & Reviews, Reviews

My Boy

They killed my boy, my Tommy’s dead,
Oh would that it were me instead,
Old should not live if young are dead,
Oh would that it were me instead.
 
But war is when the young men die,
And war is when the old men cry,
As Priam once from gates of Troy,
‘My boy,
My boy, 
My boy, 
My boy.’

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Filed under Beyond The Grave, My War Poetry

A Pardon Stands & Here Lies A Soldier

A Pardon Stands
 
A pardon! Say again, a pardon stands,
For those that died at their own country’s hands,
For those who fell at dawn in distant lands,
For those forgotten few, a pardon stands.
 
#
 
Here Lies A Soldier
 
There used to be no writing on this slate,
It was a marble ghost, 
Devoid of all but name, and date,
It held no comfort for its host.
 
A pardon comes, thank God,
But half a hundred years too late,
For all who cared,
For all who grieved alone.
 
They did not live to see the world awake,
They did not watch the mountains shake,
They did not hear the trumpets sound,
They did not feel the earth resound.
 
Theirs was a lifetime spent in public scorn,
Too oft’ afraid their loss to mourn,
Lest others, thinking not, their grief  upset,
Cowards chanting ‘coward.’
 
How sad they never read the writing on the slate,
An honour now, to add to name, and date,
A proof of what they’d known before,
Etched out in stone for ever more,
Just seven words and nothing more,
 
‘Here lies a soldier of the War.’

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For a brother

You left, as I recall, to sounds of pomp and circumstance,
To fight the noble fight, you said, one must set sail for France,
I waved to you goodbye but as a boy I could not see,
What all the foreign fighting had to do with you and me.
 
We lit for you a candle, which burned bright through night and day,
And kept you always in our hearts though you were far away,
But when the letter told us you were never coming back,
We didn’t visit church again, your candle paled to black.
 
Now after that, the day of days, in hope I was alone,
Unbowed, I lit a flame myself that I might bring you home,
This flame was not a candle but a fire that pierced the night,
Beside the pyre I sat in vain awaiting any sight. 
 
I did not understand why you would not come back to play,
And though our mother tried to try no words that she could say,
Would stop the sense of certainty from forming in my mind,
That some day you’d come back to me, so leaving France behind. 
 
An old man now I’ve seen at last just why you kept away,
But still I come to build my fire to set the sky ablaze,
I wish that I’d been by your side to face the horror too,
Because you and I were brothers and that’s what brothers do.

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A Christmas Truce

Pale winter’s sun with her sweet dwindling light, 
To bed crept she and hid her weary face,
Whilst fell around her darkness bleak as space.
What madness might have met that fateful sight,
But for one faint and gentle spec of white?
A single flake of snow with God’s good grace,
Untouched as yet by death or human waste,
Did fair remind the world of wrong from right.
Now to this ghost both friend and foe gave chase,
With haste across the lines that had been set,
And in each other’s hearts they found a place,
To rest, amidst a merry Christmas fete,
So true the violent times could not erase, 
The mem’ries of when warring brothers met.

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Filed under Beyond The Grave, My War Poetry