Posted by: Rob | November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day

I heard no stories of war as a youngster growing up.  There weren’t that many in my family who served in the military, although there were many who made law enforcement a vocation.

I’ve seen a photo of my maternal grandfather in a Canadian military uniform.  The only thing I remember being told was that he wasn’t sent overseas, primarily because of his age; he would have been 44 years old in 1939.  As I write this it occurs to me, though, that he was an Hungarian immigrant and, given the whole internment camp thing for other ethnic groups, perhaps that was the reason he wasn’t sent to Europe.

The only other relative I knew of who served was my Uncle George.  Uncle George was married to one of my Mom’s older sisters.  He was, in fact, her second husband.  Auntie Beth’s first husband, who was also named George (yeah, think of that corny English song “Henery the eighth”), was killed in action in WWII.

Uncle George served as a mechanic in the RCAF.  He worked on Spitfires.  I recall one story Uncle George related in my presence.  He was of German descent and I think he spoke the language.  As a result of that he was conscripted to go along with a group of officers as the occupation of Germany got underway after the Nazi’s surrendered.  I think it was partially to facilitate looting the acquisition of souvenirs.

On the return home, as Uncle George rode the troop ship ferrying soldiers across the English Channel back to Britain in preparation for transport back to Canada, word came down that all soldier’s duffles would be inspected for contraband.  Apparently, a mild panic ensued which was followed by a myriad of splashes as German military issue firearms, pistols mostly, were tossed overboard into the Channel.

In the latter years before he died, my father took an interest in our family’s genealogy.  He always had a penchant for stretching the truth and mildly distorting facts, so I’m not certain how much water his claim that Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae is a distant relative holds.  If it’s true, it would be kind of neat, don’t you think?

For those of you who don’t know, McCrae was the Canadian soldier who authored the poem In Flanders Fields on the battlefield in Europe in 1915.

In Flanders Fields

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 grow
In Flanders fields.
Lt.-Col. John McCrae

My father was also a big fan of the Clancy Brothers and later of Liam Clancy when he was on his own or performing with Tommy Makem.  One of dad’s favourite tunes was The Green Fields of France, which is about a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Green Fields of France
Music and Lyrics by Eric Bogle

Well, how do you do, Private William McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done.
And I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916,
Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the rifles fir o’er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

The sun’s shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that’s still No Man’s Land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

And I can’t help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you “The Cause?”
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.


  1. not much military linkage in my family either – other than my form of service (which goes unstated)…

  2. I got conscripted at the tender age of 17 and spent two years in the army. It taught me a lot – for example, the conscientious objectors may just have had a point.

  3. I love the song Rob. I may have to post about my family’s service.

  4. poems and songs like that are timeless, no matter how technology changes war…

  5. In America, we enjoy the freedom of giving half our income to the government through various forms of taxes. We have the freedom to participate in a Ponzi scheme known as Social Security. We have the freedom to vote for the president. Unlike the voters of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, who only had one choice for president, we have two choices! We have the freedom to choose between Republican-led big government programs and Democrat-led big government programs. We have the freedom to use government-controlled money, which loses value every year. We have the freedom to subsidize the poltically-connected agricultural, automotive, and banking industries. We have the freedom of sending children through the compusory government-run education system, and then pay for job training for those that get through 12 years of schooling and still don’t know how to do anything. We have the freedom to own guns, provided that said gun is approved by the government and we pass the government-mandated background check. If we get the appropriate permits and stand in then proper free-speech zone, we have the freedom to protest.

    Thanks to all the veterans that defended these freedoms and kept them from being taken away!

  6. […] As I searched youtube for a recording of the Liam Clancy cover of The Green Fields of France for my Remembrance Day post, I saw a related video come up for “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda“, which […]

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