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‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’: Spill of poppies commemorate fallen of First World War
08.01.2014
01:29 pm

Topics:
Current Events

Tags:
poetry
Wilfred Owen
World War I

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To commemorate the centennial of Britain’s involvement in the First World War, artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper have produced a “staggering” installation of red ceramic poppies in the dry moat of the Tower of London.

The installation is titled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” and once finished will consist of 888,246 red ceramic poppies—each one representing a British or Colonial fatality during the Great War. The red poppy is the British symbol for Remembrance Day, when the nation give homage to the war dead. Volunteers will plant ceramic flowers each day until November 11th—the day of remembrance.

Remembrance is one thing, but humanity never seems to learn from the experiences of past wars—as can be seen by current events in Gaza. If there is any real sincerity in honoring those who sacrificed their lives, then it is in the cessation of all conflict. But sadly I doubt we are ever going to see that anytime soon.

It would also have been an idea to remember not just the British and Colonial fallen, but all of the (estimated) 37 million casualties (16 million dead and over 20 million wounded) in this horrendous conflict.

The poet Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918) was a hero, soldier and poet, who best summed up the horror of war with his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est,” which strikes as hard now as it did when first published in 1920.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
.

The phrase “Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori” means “How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country,” and is taken from a poem by the Roman poet Horace. It was used to encourage the young into the belief it was good to die for one’s country, or fatherland. This “old lie” is still in use today.
 
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More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The First World War: Color photographs of the German Front 1914-1918
02.10.2014
04:22 am

Topics:
History

Tags:
Photography
J. B. Priestley
World War I

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These incredible color photographs of the German battlefront during the First World War, 1914-1918, were taken by Hans Hildenbrand.

The novelist and playwright, J. B. Priestley, who fought in the war, described the difference in strategy and the folly of attitude between the opposing armies in his memoir Margin Released:

The British Army never saw itself as a citizens’ army. It behaved as if a small gentlemanly officer class still had to make soldiers out of under-gardeners’ runaway sons and slum lads known to the police. These fellows had to be kept up to scratch. Let ‘em get slack, they’d soon be rabble again. So where the Germans and French would hold a bad front line with the minimum of men, allowing the majority to get some rest, the British command would pack men into rotten trenches, start something to keep up their morale, pile up casualties and drive the survivors to despair. This was done not to win a battle, not even to gain a few yards of ground, but simply because it was supposed to be the thing to do. All the armies in that idiot war shovelled divisions into attacks, often as bone-headed as ours were, just as if healthy young men had begun to seem hateful in the sight of Europe, but the British command specialized in throwing men away for nothing. The tradition of an officer class, defying both imagination and common sense, killed most of my friends as surely as those cavalry generals had come out of the chateaux with pol mallets and beaten their brains out…

...I still feel today and must go on feeling until I die, the open wound, never to be healed, of my generation’s fate, the best sorted out and then slaughtered, not by hard necessity but mainly by huge murderous public folly.

 
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More color photos from World War One, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment