Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Belgium, late November 1918

'The ground was covered with discarded tins, some puckered out like cone-shaped weeds, others embedded deep, as if they had been rolled and flattened by something heavy. The older ones were rusted black, but many still had legible labels. Sardine tins, tins of marmalade, a bright yellow label reading Fortnum and Mason, tins of something called Harrison's Pomade. Marden became engrossed with these, began following them as someone follows a trail. The tins, their labels, acted as homely captions to an otherwise unfathomable illustration -- the only thing he had seen so far that made any sense. The first band was more than twenty yards wide, then came a gap where there were hardly any tins, and then suddenly he was up to a new band, tins with German labels, and it wasn't more than sixty yards between the German tins and the British ones.

Tins. But not only tins. There were rags and buttons and chicken bones and soggy canvas buckets and razors and tobacco pouches and pages from pay books and dirty wads of money and pictures of music hall stars and punctured canteens and corrugated iron sheeting and empty cognac bottles and soles off hobnailed boots and shredded haversacks and flypaper and rum jars and cooking dixies and a legless wicker chair and telegraph wire and broken insulators and bits of harness and endless piles of four-by-twos, and in and around all these things, like a kind of dusting, the bright golden casings of machine gun bullets the shape and thickness of stubby pens.

The garbage lay thickest in the deepest furrows, and so it took Marden longer than it should have to understand these had been trenches.'

-- W.D. Wetherell, A Century of November

In memory of the grandfathers, one frostbitten, one shot, both gassed, both survivors; and of great-aunt Jessie, who caught the Spanish flu while nursing soldiers in the City Hospital, Edinburgh, the winter the war ended.

L.R.G. 1893-1969

G.A.K. 1897-1970

J. McA. 1897-1919

Grandfather Goldsworthy, Curramulka, South Australia, 1915


genevieve said...

Lovely post and picture, PC. I am intrigued by the Age article yesterday about Sydney Loch's contemporaneous book on Gallipoli, which has been reprinted. We have the book by his wife, so I'm going to get hold of his for a pigeon pair.

meggie said...

I hear ya,
Loud & cleah!

Dean said...

Amid all this celebration of noble and righteous deaths, how many of us actually have the foggiest idea of what WWI was about?

So they were 16 and lied about their age. Do we ever really examine what motivated them, and whether it was, in fact, noble at all?

As to righteous: it depends, as ever, and solely, on who won.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Dean, this comment doesn't seem to have a lot to do with my post. I said nothing about rightousness, or being 16, or celebration or nobility.

'... all this celebration of noble and righteous deaths'? As I've said elsewhere re Anzac Day, I've actually seen very little 'celebration' and a great deal of fairly sombre remembrance, which was certainly what this post was about, and which I think is appropriate.

'... how many of us actually have the foggiest idea of what WWI was about?'

Well, I do, and so do quite a lot of other people: anyone who's interested in European history does. Considering it set the scene for the entire 20th century, throughout the West and also well beyond it, it's pretty important if one wishes to understand why one's life has been as it has been. I wouldn't be here at all, for a start, if my grandfather hadn't gone to Europe to fight and there met my grandmother.

Like most of my contemporaries, I spent a big chunk of my matric year (Year 12, of course) studying the origins and causes of WW1. The grandfather in in the photo also told me a fair bit. But that was a long time ago. I don't know what kids are studying in history at school these days. If anything.

Dean said...

Sorry if I went off a bit, but the blanket coverage of Anzac Day in the media gets up my nose. You are unusual if you know what caused WWI. But "quite a lot" does not equal "anyone who's interested in European history". I know about British history from about 1500 to about 1850, but beyond that I'm at sea.

I do believe, however, that ignorance is more common than informedness. Just from watching the TV and reading the broadsheets, you are no wiser. The papers contain no information about the reasons for the conflict. There is no questioning as to why Australia was involved.

All we get is shots of elderly men walking down a street. To me, that's not balanced reporting. And I also think it's not "fairly sombre remembrance".

I believe that Australia has a duty, as the only truly democratic nation in Asia, to play a role in diminishing the importance of militarism in the national story. If we go over the top, then it spurs less liberal countries like Japan to follow suit. Then comes China.

Pavlov's Cat said...

'.. the blanket coverage of Anzac Day in the media gets up my nose.'

Fair enough, but I wasn't part of it. If you wanted to sound off here, you could have at least read the post!

'You are unusual if you know what caused WWI.'

Yeah, see, I have no idea why you think that. Most of the people I know have got a pretty fair idea. As I say, it may be generational: there was an interesting moment at Larvatus Prodeo a week or two ago when someone said 'Sarajevo' in a context that made it quite clear to me she was referring to the incident -- the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo -- that actually sparked off WW1 after years of international tensions -- and another commenter, who knows a huge amount of history but is a decade or two younger than the first one, completely missed the reference (and was secure enough to admit it and make fun of himself for doing so, too). Obviously it's something that used to be common knowledge but has become uncommon just over the last few decades.

But that doesn't mean it's 'unusual'. There are still quite a lot of people in this country over 45 or so -- however reviled we may be by Boomer-hatas!

Dean said...

OK, I've googled WWI and read a brief precis (I'm 44 BTW).

Based on this 'research' I think I can safely say that Australia had no need to go to war in Europe. The whole thing looks like a throw-back to the previous century. We are well jack of such allegiances.

As for your coverage, I would not have thought you would celebrate the day in this way. That's just my opinion.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Um ... are we on the same planet here?

My 'coverage' consisted of an incredibly grim quotation from a contemporary novel describing the horror of the trenches at the immediate end of the war, followed by a brief remembrance of my two known and loved grandfathers and what they went through, and the great-aunt who died nursing soldiers in the flu epidemic. Damage and suffering all round, and illustrated by what I think is an incredibly poignant photo of one of them -- the boy from the bush, age 21, about to be shipped off to God knows where to endure God knows what, God knows why.

Celebration it ain't.

Sorry, but I'm at a complete loss here. I really don't understand why you've responded to an extremely non-celebratory Anzac Day post in such a strange way. It's as if you're reading someone else's blog entirely.

Dean said...

I don't mean to confuse or offend. But the internet is all about opinion. I'm just 'reading' your post in a different way from you, that's all.

Even the choice of a story can be construed, depending on the context, as indicating bias. This is taught in all journalism schools.

Pavlov's Cat said...

'But the internet is all about opinion.'

Really? I guess I don't think it is -- for me it's all about knowledge, which I value much more highly. (But that's just my opinion, heh.)