November 9th is a day with special significance in our family. It would have been my brother Stephen's 56th birthday, but he passed away in 2001 (although it seems only a short while ago that we lost him to kidney cancer). In a poignant footnote to that, my beloved mom, May (Beveridge), passed away on the 9th of November three years ago. From the moment of the call in the middle of the night, I thought about the significance of that.
So we spent a little time on a beautiful and incredibly warm Sunday visiting their gravesites next to each other on a beautiful site overlooking the National Military Cemetery at Beechwood in Ottawa.
It also gave us pause to walk over there to see the touchingly beautiful memorial to fallen soldiers who died in service to their country - many of them the same age as our children.So as you can imagine, on the eve of Remembrance Day (or Veterans' Day in the United States where I am now), that one's thoughts are with the families of these brave young men and women. As the proud son of a World War II veteran (my dad served with the R.A.F. in North Africa and India), I am vulnerable to some sentimental feelings at this time of year. Well okay, not necesasrily even at this time of year!
At our Church every year, Father Joe LeClair puts together a moving ceremony. Always one of the highlights is the hauntingly beautiful, 'Green Fields of France', by Eric Bogle (the prolific Australian singer/songwriter who also wrote the powerful 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda').
The Green Fields of France
Well, how do you do, Private William McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
And I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916,
Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?
Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the rifles fir o'er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?
And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?
The sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.
And I can't help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.
© Eric Bogle
So on November 11th, let's wear a poppy, go to a memorial to the fallen and spend that two minutes of silence in deep gratitude.
Until next time....