Friday, November 07, 2008

Did they really believe that this war could end wars?



This Sunday marks Remembrance Sunday, in remebrance of Armistice Day 1918 'The eleventh hour on the eleventh day on the eleventh month.' We did it in school, like a lot of people. I remember doing it aged about eight, via watching a programme called How We Used To Live, a show that looked at a family in Yorkshire.

A few years later, on a family holiday in France, we drove along passed the roads where the cemeteries are. Even as a twelve year old, it was quite sobering, and the picture at the top gives an idea of what it is like. The graves of thousands of young men, slaughtered for...?

For a long time, I considered myslef to be bordering on being a pacifist. In recent years, I've wondered whether I still would be. I would categorically have refused to fight in the Falklands War, or either of the Gulf Wars. These had nothing to do with humanitarian concerns and a lot more to do with muscle-flexing and oil, in the case of the Gulf. I like to think I would have fought against Hitler, and volunteered in the Spanish Civil War against Franco (the latter may have some rather ideological and romantic ideas, based on reading Laurie Lee and George Orwell). As for the First World War...did it achieve anything?

Eric Bogle wrote a song 'No Man's Land' that made John Peel's Festive Fifty twice. Once as 'No Man's Land/Flowers Of the Forest' by June Tabor in 1977 and later in 1984 as 'The Green Fields Of France' by The Men They Couldn't Hang. Everytime I hear eiether version of this song I'm deeply moved, and reminded of the futility of war. Especially those that use young people as cannon fodder. I was appalled a few years back when it was revealed that the Army were still heavily recruiting around some of the porrest areas of Glasgow, near where I was working and where many kids were seriously disenfranchised. Oddly enough 'Officer Class' wasn't being mentioned.

Check out Eric Bogle's work, and other people's covers of it. I also was lead to him through The Pogues ('And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda) and Billy Bragg ('My Youngest Son Came Home Today.') Even reading the lyrics is frankly, pretty emotional.

June Tabor -'No Man's Land/Flowers Of the Forest.' mp3

The Men They Couldn't Hang -'The Green Fields Of France.' mp3

Thanks due to Steve at Teenage Kicks for his bringing these to my attention!

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

well said Ed, I still can't listen to "Matilda" without filling up ...

cheers, Craig

robert said...

June Tabor's a cappella version of "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" from her Airs and Graces album was my introduction to Eric Bogle's songs and is still my favorite version. Sends chills down my spine when I hear it...

Ed said...

Cheers for those, folks, will investigate...Ed

entrailicus said...

I think people 'hoped' this would end all wars.

Great selection of tunes. check out Peel's history of traditional English music from the FiS back catalogue for some more ggod stuff.

Ed said...

will do!

Peewit said...

I've just come back from church, Where my wife and the church ("folk") choir have just sung "Green fields of France". Several people came up to me afterwards and said they had started crying listening to the words. Not so much "alternative Ulster" but "Alternative Armistice"

Ed said...

...wow, that's some tribute. It is a deeply moving tune, no doubt about it, and even more so when the words come in...

dickvandyke said...

Mental Cases.

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls' teeth wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain,-but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hands' palms
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

-These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them,
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable, and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men's extrication.

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense
Sunlight seems a blood-smear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh.
-Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
-Thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.


WILFRED OWEN

Ed said...

wow...not sure how to follow that at all...

Anonymous said...

Oh how do you do, young Willy McBride
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside
And rest for a while 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 nineteen
When you joined the great fallen in 1916
Well I hope you died quick
And I hope you died clean
Or Willy McBride, was is it slow and obscene

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and 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 you're forever nineteen
Or are you a stranger without even a name
Forever enshrined behind some old glass pane
In an old photograph torn, tattered, and stained
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

The sun 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, no barbed wire, no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard that's still no mans land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man
And a whole generation were butchered and damned

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

And I can't help but wonder oh Willy 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 and dying it was all done in vain
Oh Willy McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest
(The Green Fields of France)

I want this to be the song I will be buried on just like my great-grandfather was....

Ed said...

To describe this as a deeply moving song doesn't begin to cover it...