World War I and poetry


This video from Britain about World War I says about itself:

The Somme – Lions Led By Donkeys

Documentary about the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. A number of excellent interviews from old soldiers.

By John Green in Britain:

Well versed in the realities of first world war

Monday 25th January 2016

Everything to Nothing: A History of the Great War, Revolution and the Birth of Europe by Geert Buelens (Verso, £20)

EUROPEANS plunged like lemmings into the engulfing abyss of WWI under the influence of “the massage of propaganda, the gospel of terror,” as Polish poet Anatol Stern observed in 1914.

That perception is typical of this very different and fascinating take on the conflict, reflected in the outpouring of writing amid the tumult and chaos.

The war opened up new imaginative possibilities for exploring personal tragedy and the extremes of human experience.

Poetry, particularly, took centre stage, both as a means of propaganda and for manipulating sentiments but also as a means of portraying a scarcely communicable horror.

Buelens undertakes a cultural history of the war through the writings of those caught up in the maelstrom, from the point of view of poets from all the European countries involved, including Anna Akhmatova, Rupert Brooke, Guillaume Apollinaire and many less well-known writers.

He provides a panorama of those short but intensive four years from 1914-18 through the eyes of those poets who charted its course but also imagined its aftermath and encapsulated the human Calvary in a way that no traditional history, however good, could do.

The author draws on an amazing range of poets to weave a comprehensive picture of the psychology of the immediate pre-war period and the premonition of the chaos, nihilism and nationalism as well as a yearning for change.

These poets, in the main, were actual participants and describe the war’s raw reality, unlike the onlookers and outsiders who could afford to squander their patriotic rhetoric and appeals to romantic sacrifice while others were obliged to squander their blood.

The French poet Paul Valery wrote: “The illusion of a European culture has been lost.” How right he was.

Despite the ideals of pre-war socialists throughout Europe that working men and women of all nations would stand together and refuse to slaughter each other, a short time later they followed their governments like lambs to the abattoir, cocooned in the heady patriotic fervour of national anthems and swirling banners.

This book undoubtedly represents a unique approach to the history of the war but without a political and economic context it can of course provide only a literary reflection on it, without offering any analysis.

Welsh opposition to World War I


This video says about itself:

8 August 2014

Anti-NATO protesters begin 192-mile march on NATO SUMMIT to WALES, UK.

“Peace activists have set out on a three-week ‘Long March on Newport’ to protest against September’s NATO Summit. Police say they have drafted in 9,000 officers to face the protesters in one of the UK’s biggest ever police operations. More than 20,000 activists from around the world are expected to take part in demonstrations during the summit, where a week-long peace camp and a counter summit are among some of the events planned in what has been billed as Wales’ largest protest in a generation.

Sixty world leaders from the 28-nation military bloc will meet at the Celtic Manor in Newport for the NATO summit on September 4 and 5. Previous NATO summits in Chicago and Strasbourg saw thousands protest war, austerity and global inequality.”

By Phil Broadhurst in Britain:

Timely tribute to Welsh heroes who resisted war

Monday 11th January 2016

Not in our Name: War Dissent in a Welsh Town
by Philip Adams
(Briton Ferry Books, £15)

PHILIP ADAMS’S book is not only an important addition to local history in the area of south Wales it covers, it’s also an appeal to people in towns and cities across Britain to dig deep into their own local history and bring alive the long-lost stories of opposition to the first world war.

It was inspired by two simple family heirlooms, autograph books filled with signatures, quotes, sketches and sayings, given to the author’s aunt at Christmas 1914 and to his father at Christmas 1918.

These small pieces of contemporary personal history, in a family which included two conscientious objectors, provided a hidden history of vibrant peace activism in a small town in Wales during and after the first world war.

Briton Ferry, one of several towns across south Wales to earn the label “Little Moscow,” had 33 conscientious objectors and many more anti-war campaigners, who came from both political and religious backgrounds.

This was a time when, particularly in south Wales, lines between politics and religion were blurring and preachers and politicians were standing next to each other declaring their shared belief in socialism.

By researching the names in the autograph books, Adams has produced a roll of honour recognising and remembering the work for peace and justice of both the famous and the forgotten.

The autographs belong not only to locals but also to many national leaders, speakers and campaigners who came to speak in Briton Ferry at the time.

But it is not the pages on the likes of Bertrand Russell, Fenner Brockway, Sylvia Pankhurst or any of the other well documented signatories which are the most interesting or most important.

Names like dockworker Ernest Gething, railway shunter William Meyrick Davies, tinplate worker Ivor Johns and student teacher Brynley Griffiths will mean nothing to most people outside their families.

But now, thanks to Adams, their actions in resisting war are finally documented in a way their courage merits.

Jeremy Corbyn recites pro-peace poem to remember World War I


This music video from London, England says about itself:

Remembering World War One in Music and Words. St James’s Church London, 25 October 2013. Filmed by Fourman Films.

For more info on the No Glory in War campaign see here.

PROGRAMME:

1 Introduction by Lindsey German, convener of Stop the War Coalition

2 The Lark Ascending, played by i Maestri conducted by John Landor. Solo violin George Hlawiczka

3 Kika Markham reads Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy and A War Film by Teresa Hooley

4 Elvis McGonigle reads Strange Meeting By Wilfred Owen and Matey by Patrick MacGill

5 Music by Sally Davies, Matthew Crampton, Abbie Coppard and Tim Coppard

6 Jeremy Corbyn MP

7 Elvis McGonaggall

8 Kate Hudson, chair of CND

9 Music by Sally Davies, Matthew Crampton, Abbie Coppard and Tim Coppard

10 Matthew Crampton reads My Dad and My Uncle were in World War One by Heathcote Williams

11 Kika and Jehane Markham

12 Billy Bragg sings: Last Night I had the Strangest Dream, My Youngest Son Came Home Today, Like Soldiers Do, The Man He Killed, Between the Wars, Where Have All the Flowers Gone

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Jeremy Corbyn to recite Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Futility’ in Remembrance Sunday memorial service

Jeremy Corbyn will be laying a wreath at the Cenotaph and will then attend the ceremony in his constituency of Islington North

Shehab Khan

Jeremy Corbyn will recite a poem about the futility of war at a memorial service on Remembrance Sunday in his constituency.

Mr Corbyn will join the other party leaders to lay a wreath bearing his own message at the Cenotaph and will then attend the ceremony in Islington North.

There, he will recite “Futility” by the First World War solider poet Wilfred Owen at memorial service in his constituency.

The poem tells of a fallen soldier and concentrates on the meaning of existence, the pointlessness of war and inevitability of death.

This is what the poem says:

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds,—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved—still warm—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Jeremy Corbyn accuses UK military chief of ‘breaching’ constitutional principle with Trident comments: here.

SKY NEWS bosses refused to apologise last night for referring to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “Jihadi Jez” despite thousands of complaints: here.

World War I and poppies today


This video says about itself:

All Quiet on the Western Front – Trailer [1930] [3rd Oscar Best Picture]

This is an English language film (made in America) adapted from a novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque. The film follows a group of German schoolboys, talked into enlisting at the beginning of World War 1 by their jingoistic teacher. The story is told entirely through the experiences of the young German recruits and highlights the tragedy of war through the eyes of individuals.

As the boys witness death and mutilation all around them, any preconceptions about “the enemy” and the “rights and wrongs” of the conflict disappear, leaving them angry and bewildered. This is highlighted in the scene where Paul mortally wounds a French soldier and then weeps bitterly as he fights to save his life while trapped in a shell crater with the body. The film is not about heroism but about drudgery and futility and the gulf between the concept of war and the actuality. Written by Michele Wilkinson.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Red or white, let poppies be a mark of respect

Friday 30th October 2015

Both kinds of poppy should be about the respect each of us feels for those who paid the greatest price in the futility of war, not for glorifying war and militarism, argues PETER FROST

During WWI 10 million soldiers were killed. As the men — and the brave women who nursed them at the front — slowly returned home from war, many had shell-shock or what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. They all had stories to tell.

Those who had seen such horrors in the blood and mud of the trenches in Belgium and northern France also would tell a much brighter story of the extraordinary beauty, persistence and profusion of the fragile but defiant flower — the blood-red corn poppy.

Strangely it was returning North American soldiers who first adopted the red poppy as an emblem. The Canadian doctor John McCrae had captured the beauty, symbolism and pathos of the poppy in a poem: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.”

US organisations first arranged for artificial poppies to be made by women in war-torn France. The money raised went to children who had been orphaned by the war.

British soldiers too came back from the grimness of war to find that life wasn’t “fit for heroes” as they had been promised. Just like today, returning heroes found the government off-hand and tardy dealing with their problems.

As so often Rudyard Kipling summed it up in a couple of lines: “If any question why we died/Tell them, because our fathers lied.” Kipling’s lines have taken on a new amazingly contemporary relevance as Tony Blair is forced to tell the truth about his war crimes.

Some of the returning WWI soldiers organised themselves into ex-servicemen’s societies of various political opinions and of varying degrees of militancy. In 1921 many of these organisations united to form the British Legion.

Its noble purpose was to provide support and to fight for the rights of ex-servicemen, especially the disabled and their families.

In fact what actually happened was it became run by the officer class, “the donkeys that had led the lions in the trenches.” They paid themselves good salaries as the charity became one of the richest in Britain.

The Legion bought 1.5 million of those French-made artificial poppies and sold them to the British public, raising over £10,000. Poppy day had been invented.

Soon the British Legion set up its own poppy factory, with disabled ex-servicemen making the poppies and today they produce and sell over 45 million lapel poppies, 120,000 wreaths and one million small wooden remembrance crosses. It also adopted as its slogan: “Honour the dead, care for the living.”

Today David Cameron and his fellow Tories may wear the poppy but claims for benefits for recently serving military personnel are taking longer and longer and becoming harder and harder as a result of their spending cuts.

One in 10 of Britain’s homeless rough sleepers is an ex-soldier.

Not everyone is happy to wear the red poppy. Some see them as glorifying war and militaristic thinking. In many people’s eyes they have become a badge of jingoism and a justification of recent wars.

In some quarters the poppy has become a more blatant political label. In Northern Ireland it became a Protestant loyalist symbol because of its connection with British imperialism.

In 1926 the No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion should be asked to put “No More War” in the centre of the red poppies instead of “Haig Fund.”

Haig was “Butcher Haig” — the British general who had ordered so many of his troops to their death at the Battle of the Somme — one of the worst bloodbaths in British military history.

When it came to “lions led by donkeys,” Haig was certainly our biggest donkey. Two million brave lions died under his orders.

The officer class running the British Legion choose to keep Haig’s name on their poppies until 1994.

In 1933 the first white poppies appeared on Armistice Day, mostly home-made and worn mainly by members of the Co-operative Women’s Guild. Just a year later the Peace Pledge Union was formed and it began widespread distribution of white peace poppies in November each year.

Just as today, it took real courage and real commitment to wear the white peace poppy.

So which will you wear? My wife Ann always wears a red poppy. The flower has a strong personal family connection. She wears it in proud memory of her dad Fred who always wore his red poppy in memory of his own father, another Fred, Ann’s grandfather.

Grandfather Fred died in France in 1917 — he had been in France just days and his body was never found. He left a widow and four children including young Fred then aged just six.

Fred hated war as much as anybody but his red poppy was the only memorial to his dad he ever had. No wonder he wore it with pride and encouraged his young daughter to wear it too.

So wear your poppy, red or white or both with pride. Don’t let anyone hijack the red poppy as a symbol glorifying war and militarism.

Both poppies red and white are about the respect each of us feels for those who paid the greatest price in the futility of war. Sadly young soldiers are still dying.

Anti-refugee policies and wars, 1915-2015


This video says about itself:

Cutting Through Hungary’s Razor Wire Fence: Breaking Borders (Dispatch 6)

20 September 2015

As Hungary cracked down on its border policies this week, those seeking refuge in Europe made one last push before their route was altered permanently.

The tightening of the Hungarian frontier on Tuesday marked a crucial shift in the migrants’ journey, leaving them in limbo and forcing many to divert through Croatia, or cutting the fence separating Serbia and Hungary and risking significant jail time.

VICE News followed refugees the day before, seeing the desperate measures migrants and refugees resort to, and talking to those who had made the journey from Syria, trying to beat the deadline.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

EU wants to end refugees passing through Balkans

Today, 14:59

The European Union will this week send 400 border guards to the southwestern Balkans to regulate the influx of refugees. This is stated in the draft which the leaders of the Balkans later this afternoon should agree to during their consultations with the European Commission in Brussels.

The draft statement also says that Brussels is working on measures for rejected asylum seekers from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and other Asian countries to be sent back more quickly to their own countries.

Let us look at these countries, supposedly ‘safe’ according to European Union bureaucrats: bloody war in Pakistan.

Bloody war in Afghanistan, where war planes bomb hospitals.

Bloody war in Iraq, by ISIS, various militias, NATO warplanes

This 25 October 2015 Dutch video is about the commemoration at the Dutch-Belgian border of the deathly fence built by the German army there 100 years ago.

Let us go back 100 years. Also from NOS TV (translation):

A fence with 2000 volts to stop refugees

Today, 17:24

This year it is a hundred years ago that on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium, a fence was erected, which was under electric power. A fence of 350 kilometers from the Belgian coast to Vaals in Limburg province. It was built by the Germans, who occupied most of Belgium during the First World War. They wanted to prevent Belgians from crossing the border with the neutral Netherlands.

To commemorate the construction of the fence between Zundert in North Brabant and Wuustwezel in Belgium a monument has been erected. There is a reconstruction of a piece of wire and a memorial field.

2000 volts

The wire had to stop German deserters and Belgians who wanted to join the Belgian army which fought alongside the British in the unoccupied south-west corner of Belgium. There were man-high piles there coated with lethal wires, with 2,000 volts going through. The electric fence was between two normal fences.

The lightest touch with the wires was instantly fatal. “Your guts were boiled,” said historian John Frijters. …

How many people were killed by the “Todesstreifen” has never been known precisely. There were at least hundreds. Moreover, many refugees were unable to have contact with their families on the other side of the wire. And also Belgian refugees in the Netherlands who wanted to go back home could not do that because of the fence anymore. So, the existence of the Wire of Death had far-reaching consequences. …

To mark the border volunteers today planted white crocus bulbs, over a distance of 10 km. The flowers will start coming into bloom next year. This is also the time when the construction of the Death Wire was completed 100 years ago.

Australian government sends [refugee] alleged rape victim back to detention on Nauru: here.

World War I Russian submarine discovery off Sweden


This 27 July 2015 video is called Footage Shows Foreign Submarine Found In Swedish Waters.

From AFP news agency:

Sweden says submarine wreck probably Tsarist-era Russian vessel

Submarine likely to be Som-class submarine, nicknamed Catfish, which sank after collision with Swedish vessel in 1916

Tuesday 28 July 2015 17.37 BST

The wreck of a submarine found off Sweden’s coast was probably a Tsarist-era Russian vessel that collided with a ship about a century ago, the country’s military has announced.

“We are most likely talking about the Russian Som-class submarine – nicknamed Catfish – which sank after a collision with a Swedish vessel in 1916 during the first world war and before the Russian Revolution,” the Swedish armed forces said.

Speculation had been swirling about the origins of the vessel after Swedish divers announced on Monday that a submarine had been found about 1.5 nautical miles off the coast of central Sweden.

The announcement came nine months after a high-profile hunt for a mystery submarine in Swedish waters, which some suspected was a modern Russian vessel.

The Swedish military said pictures of the wreck taken by the divers confirmed its own analysis and that it did not think a full technical analysis was necessary. Experts identified it as an imperial Russian navy sub that sank with an 18-member crew in May 1916 after a collision with a Swedish vessel.

Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter said it was a submarine built for the imperial Russian navy in Vladivostok in 1904 and integrated into the naval fleet in the Baltic Sea in 1915.

“Judging by the pictures, it is the Som,” Konstanin Bogdanov, head of a state-backed team of wreck divers in Russia, told AFP, referring to what appears to be Cyrillic lettering on the submarine’s outer shell.

He said his team would be happy to study the find together with the Swedish divers. “We are ready to conduct a joint expedition,” he said, adding that if the wreck is confirmed as the Catfish it would be important to also “immortalise the memory” of those who perished.

Stefan Hogeborn, a diver with the Ocean X Team that made the discovery, said the mini-sub was completely intact with no visible damage to the hull and the hatches were closed. “It is unclear how old the submarine is and how long it has been laying at the sea floor, but the Cyrillic letters on the hull indicate that it is Russian,” he said in a statement on Monday.

In October, Sweden’s navy launched a massive hunt for a foreign submarine, suspected to be Russian, in the Stockholm archipelago. The military subsequently confirmed that “a mini-submarine” had violated its territorial waters, but was never able to establish the vessel’s nationality.

Last year’s hunt for the mystery vessel came at a time of particularly high tensions between Russia and the West over the conflict in Ukraine.