The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lost in War: In Memoriam

This year, a year in which we mark the centennial of the start of the First World War, we can only look back in sad amazement at the tragic consequences of that global conflict. And once again I cannot ignore the fact that I am far from young. Although I was born 26 years after the end of that war, it never seemed very far away. Growing up I knew many men who had served during World War One, men who on occasion would talk of their experiences. Believe me, if I were there, they certainly had a ready audience for their tales.

As the first conflict that can truly be called global, World War One took a tremendous toll on Europe's youth. And it wasn't just the working class that suffered; no element of society was spared. The total number of military deaths in the war approached 10 million, while 7 million civilians perished. Another 20 million people, civilian and military, were wounded. The following are just the military deaths. 

Germany 1,935,000 
Russia 1,700,000 
France 1,368,000 
Austria-Hungary 1,200,000 
British Empire       942,135
Ottoman Empire 725,000
Italy                680,000 
Romania              300,000 
United States        116,516 
Bulgaria              87,495 
Belgium 45,550
Serbia 45,000 
Greece 23,098 
Portugal 8,145 
Montenegro 3,000 
Japan 1,344

What a tremendous waste of life! Many of those who died were among the best and brightest of their generation. So many poets, so many writers, so many great minds of their time were sacrificed needlessly in a conflict that brought us a century of bloodshed. And so many others, men with families and sweethearts who would never see them again and men with wonderful ideas that would never come to fruition. History may remember only the wars and brutal ideologies that caused them, but we should also remember those whose lives were taken during that century's first war. Here are just a few:

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915). Described as "the handsomest young man in England" Brooke died en route to the Dardanelles and is buried on the Greek island of Skyros. His War Sonnets included "The Soldier" which begins with the famous lines "If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England." 
Julian Grenfell (1888-1915). His celebrated poem "Into Battle" appeared in the same year he was killed at Ypres.

Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918). An American poet who is perhaps best known for his poem, "Trees", Kilmer also wrote much memorable war poetry, including "Memorial Day", "Rouge Bouquet", and "When the Sixty-Ninth Comes Back". He was killed by a sniper's bullet during the Battle of Ourcq. I've always had a particular fondness for Kilmer since he lived for several years in Larchmont, NY, the town where I grew up. As a Catholic he also worshiped in our parish church, St. Augustine.

H. H. Munro (1870-1916). Best known by his pen name, Saki, Munro wrote many wonderfully humorous stories, most of which were delightful satires of life in Edwardian England. When I need a bit of amusement, I always turn to Saki. Munro refused a commission, preferring to serve as a regular trooper, and was noted for his courage. He was killed by a sniper during the Battle of Ancre.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). His poem "Greater Lovefrom his Collected Poems gave us the famous openings lines: "Red lips are not so red as the stained stones kissed by the English dead." Owen won the Military Cross and was killed just a week before the Armistice.

Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918). Although Rosenberg, a Jewish-English poet, was killed in action in 1918, his Collected Works weren't published until 1937. Their publication confirmed his importance as a writer of realistic war poetry.

Charles Sorley (1895-1915). Sorely was only 20 when he was killed at the battle of Loos. He left comparatively few complete poems but was well regarded by his contemporary poets.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917). Encouraged to write by the great American poet, Robert Frost, Thomas was killed at Arras and his work, including his war poetry, is now highly regarded.

Top L to R: H. H. Munro, Wilfred Owen, Joyce Kilmer, Charles Sorley; 
Bottom L to R: Edward Thomas, Isaac Rosenberg, Julian Grenfell, Rupert Brooke

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