Thursday, November 11, 2010

11/11 Remembrance Day

Today is Veteran's Day in the United States. Originally a celebration of the end of the First World War, November 11 is now a federal holiday in the United States to honor all veterans. The Concord Monitor published an excerpt from the diary of Alice Spaulding Fournier. She writes of the excitement, the cowbells, the effigy burning of "worldwide peace" on November 11, 1918 in Concord, New Hampshire.

Before visiting Finland, my knowledge of WWI was Anglocentric. I know about the horrors of the gas and trenches from reading such books as Regeneration by Pat Barker. But most of all it is the poetry of WWI that resonates with me today. Chris and I went to the Anthem for Doomed Youth exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in 2002 and that exhibit brought home the misery of the war while celebrating the poetry.

When WWI began in 1914, Finland was semi-autonomous part of the Tsar's Russia. By Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, the Tsar was gone and Finland's new neighbor had recognized Finland as an independent country:

The Soviet of People's Commissars
December 18, 1917
No. 101

As the answer to the appeal of the Finnish Government to recognise the independence of the Republic of Finland, the Soviet of People's Commissars, in full accordance with the principle of nations' right to self-determination, HAS DECIDED:

To propose to the Central Executive Committee that:

a. The independence of the Republic of Finland as a country is recognised, and

b. A special Commission, in agreement with the Finnish Government, comprising members of both parties, should be instituted to elaborate those practical measures that follow from the partition of Finland from Russia.

Chairman of the Soviet of People's Commissars
Vl. Ulianov (Lenin)

People's Commissars:
L. Trotski
G. Petrovski
J. Stalin
I. Steinberg
V. Karelin
A. Schlichter

A civil war ensued in Finland with Mannerheim going from service to the Tsar in Poland during the Great War to leader of the Whites in the Finnish civil war.

And here is the most famous poem of The Great War:


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

By Wilfred Owen


  1. Fantastic poem. Thanks for posting.

  2. BTW, I often feel like a knock-kneed coughing hag during the NH winter.