a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Armistice Day

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 11th, 2005

Käthe Kollwitz: Grieving Parents
(near her son’s war grave)

From John Keegan’s description of the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916), in The Face of Battle: Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme:

In some battalions, the men were able to walk upright, with arms sloped or ported, as they had been expecting. In others they were soon bent forward, like men walking into a strong wind and rain, their bayonets fixed and their rifles horizontal. ‘Troops always, in my experience’, wrote Lord Chandos, whose observation this is, ‘unconsciously assume this crouching position when advancing against heavy fire.’ [...]

[T]he last brigade [had] a mile of open ground to cover before it reached its own front line, a safe enough passage if the enemy’s machine-guns had been extinguished, otherwise a funeral march. A sergeant of the 3rd Tyneside Irish (26th Northumberland Fusiliers), describes how it was: ‘I could see, away to my left and right, long lines of men. Then I heard the “patter, patter” of machine-guns in the distance. By the time I’d gone another ten yards there seemed to be only a few men left around me; by the time I had gone twenty yards, I seemed to be on my own. Then I was hit myself.’

The photograph is by Tony Novosel, via a post you should visit, Ghosts of the Great War, 2005, by Teresa Nielsen Hayden at “Making Light.”

2 Responses to “Armistice Day”

  1. eRobin Says:

    My favorite Veterans’ Day post is Riggsveda’s.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Kollwitz and Riggsveda are quite on the same wavelength, I think.
    I think WWI was a war of choice that needn’t have happened. So is the one we’re in now, and I regret supporting that choice; it seemed necessary to me at the time, but it wasn’t. I’m once burned, twice shy on preventive and pre-emptive war rationales from now on.
    Those statues really affected me, for whatever that’s worth; real people’s grief ought to be more in my mind’s eye, but the eternal grief of those two stone parents will stick with me.

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