[November 11, …. – This 2011 blogpost has been temporary brought back to the front page for Armistice Day, remembered in many places around the world with many people wearing a red Flemish poppy on their clothes…]
Sept 27, 2011 – Victoria, BC, Canada –
I was a little blown away to see Flemish Poppies and the word ‘Flanders’ on Canadian money. But I didn’t know that John McCrae, the famous poet who wrote the below poem in the trenches near Ypres after one of his friends died there, was a Canadian. The poem’s first paragraph (in English and French), is on the $10, between the peace doves and poppies. The full poem reads:
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.
Last June I visited the town of Ypres (Dutch: Ieper) with my dad (1939 – 2016). My maternal grandmother (1890-1994) lived there and fled to England when all hell broke loose. Her first child, my grandfather (1913-2009) was born in Ypres. Aversion to war runs deep in Belgium. So much that I had never heard the word ‘patriot’ used in a well-meant manner until I moved to the US. Before, I only knew it used like “you dirty patriot”, meant as an insult to denote dangerous narrow-mindedness.
Ypres was one of Flanders most beautiful cities when it was decimated within 2 years of heavy war. It has been restored to close to its former glory. Veterans and families come from all over the world to remember the fallen. Memorials all over the place often include the words
Nooit Meer Oorlog – Nie Wieder Krieg – No more War – Plus jamais la guerre
It was supposed to be “the last great war”, but -alas- the madness continues to this day… To return to the Canadian $10, I thought the memorial shown was perhaps of a detail of the Menin Gate in Ypres, where EVERY DAY since 1928, hundreds gather, flowers are laid down, the fire brigade plays trumpet and a moment of silence is observed. But the war memorial on the bill is one in Ottawa (Canada’s capital).
Lest we forget, in the first week of April 1915, the soldiers of the 1st Canadian Division were moved to reinforce the salient where the British and Allied line pushed into the German line in a concave bend. On April 22, the Germans sought to eliminate this salient by using poison gas.
Following an intensive artillery bombardment, they released 160 tons of chlorine gas [also called ieperiet or mustard gas] from cylinders dug into the forward edge of their trenches into a light northeast wind—the first use of poison gas in the war. As thick clouds of yellow-green chlorine drifted over their trenches the French colonial defences and British colonial forces on either side of the Canadians crumbled, and the troops, completely overcome by this terrible weapon, died or broke and fled, leaving a gaping four-mile hole in the Allied line. A soldier in the Canadian lines discovered the neutralization of the chlorine gas was possible by pressing urine soaked rags over their noses and mouths.
The Canadians were the only division that were able to hold the line. All through the night, the Canadians fought to close this gap. On April 24, the Germans launched another poison gas attack, this time at the Canadian line. In those 48 hours of battle, the Canadians suffered over 6,000 casualties, one man in every three, of whom more than 2,000 died.
The period of German occupation in the first years of World War 1 became known as the “Rape of Belgium”.
There are also several “Veterans Poles” in Victoria, BC, honoring Canadian Aboriginal War Veterans. The first such totem pole I came across, was located close to the beach in Beacon Hill Park. Another example (shown left) is this one located at The Lodge at Broadmead.
As part of finding out where I am, I’m learning about the different First Nations / tribes around here, and their unique Pacific Northwest art forms.
………. May Peace prevail on Earth.