Tag Archives: history

At the going down of the sun we shall remember them

One of my earliest recollections of growing up in Liverpool, is of a relative (I called him big granddad or Captain Jim), who had fought and been wounded in World War I. I remember him tapping with the walking stick, which he invariably used, on the fish tank which sat in a corner of my grandfather’s (on my Mother’s side) living room. In later life I learned that he had been (and remained until his death) a member of the Labour Party and that meetings of the local organisation had taken place in his home.

I have no memory of ever having talked with this kind gentleman regarding how he came to walk with a stick but, later in life I learned that he had been wounded in the trenches. I have no idea of what this man had been through (its difficult at this distance in time to comprehend the horror of trench warfare other than by reading the accounts of eye witnesses, the recordings of those who fought in the “Great War” and, of course the poetry of the war poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke). In retrospect I wish that I had spoken with Captain Jim about his experiences. However I was a small boy so did not do so. Even had I raised the subject, its perfectly possible that he may not have wished to engage with me (or anyone else) on it.

Back in November 2016 I wrote the below poem “Poppy” which is reproduced below:

To those who died that you and me
Might live free.
To those who gave their sweet breath for King and Countrie.
I regret that yesterday
I had no cash to pay
For a poppy deep red
To remember the dead.

I will not know the stench
Of trench
Nor the wrench
Of fear
And pain as spear
Drains the life away.

What can the poet say
Who has never known
The touch of steel against bone?
We die alone
But most will peaceful go
And will not know
The whoa
Of comrades lost,
Nor count the cost
Of bloody strife.
They will not give their life
That others (you and me)
May live free.

Having only my debit card I regret to say
That I could not buy
A blood red
Poppy to remember the dead
As I wended my way
To my nine to five job yesterday”.

 

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“Attack” by Siegfried Sassoon, as read by Dame Helen Mirren

A powerful reading by Dame Hellen Mirren of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem “Attack”,

We authors/poets are often exhorted to “show not tell”. Sassoon’s poem does a lot of “telling” and does it extremely effectively. Indeed I am of the firm conviction that many of those who exhort we writers to “show not tell” can not hold a candle to Sassoon.

Kevin

Churchill

A fascinating podcast in which the historian Andrew Roberts discusses his new biography of Winston Churchill, (https://audioboom.com/posts/7039259-churchill-andrew-roberts-in-conversation-with-robert-tombs).

While the conversation between Robert Tombs and Roberts is both interesting and witty, I found the questions posed by members of the audience, following on from the discussion rather more illuminating.

While Roberts is by no means uncritical of Churchill he is (as indeed am I) an admirer of the man who played a pivotal role in saving Europe from Nazi tyranny, and we should all be eternally grateful to Churchill for doing so.

Does Disraeli Awake?

I would like to think that the author of this article is correct in his view that the Conservative Party is seeing a revival of One-Nation Conservatism/Toryism within it’s ranks, https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2018/08/why-have-the-tories-abandoned-their-promise-to-fight-burning-injustices/?

“Disabled” By Wilfred Owen

Yesterday (20 July) I came across “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57285/disabled. As someone who is himself disabled (I am registered blind), I was interested to see how one of the great poets of World War I portrays disability.

In “Disabled, Owen describes a young man who enlists in the army while underage, is terribly wounded (he loses both legs and its implied his arms also). Returning to the UK he is institutionilised and (the poem implies) his former joys, including any prospect of a woman’s love are at an end:

“Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease”.

In the above lines, Owen falls into the trap of assuming that disabled people are sexless, an idea which still persists to this day amongst some people (including the so-called educated sections of the population). Throughout history disabled people have (to state the obvious) had sexual relations both within marriage and outside of that institution. Here Owen is projecting his own view of disability onto an unnamed and depersonalised individual who has been horribly injured in war.

Having said the above, it remains as true today (as it did in Owen’s time) that many people will not entertain the idea of entering into a relationship with a person who has a disability. However it is by no means unusual for someone who is disabled to have a non-disabled partner (as a visually impaired man most of my relationships have been with sighted women).

The poem ends on the same sad note, that of a man who has lost all joy in living, including the possibility of finding love:

“Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?”.

(For an interesting article on the poem please see this piece on Disability Arts Online, http://disabilityarts.online/magazine/opinion/war-poem-disabled-wilfred-owen/).

Lord Salisbury Quotes

“By a free country I mean a country where people are allowed, so long as they do not hurt their neighbours, to do as they like. I do not mean a country where six men may make five men do exactly as they like.

That is not my notion of freedom”.

“A gram of experience is worth a ton of theory”.

“The days and weeks of screwed-up smiles and laboured courtesy, the mock geniality, the hearty shake of the filthy hand, the chuckling reply that must be made to the coarse joke, the loathsome, choking compliment that must be paid to the grimy wife and sluttish daughter, the indispensable flattery of the vilest religious prejudices, the wholesale deglutition of hypocritical pledges”. (Lord Salisbury on electoral canvasing. No politician would, I feel sure venture to publicly express such views as regards the electorate of the United Kingdom today).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Gascoyne-Cecil,_3rd_Marquess_of_Salisbury

Civilisation

Had I the money, I would withdraw
From the world’s incessant roar
And wait in my gated home
For civilisation to be as Rome.

But no,
Perhaps we can avoid a collapse
And the roar
Will go
On as before.