Roman Calendar

Random Greco-Roman Image

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I read a splendid and very moving book by Neil Hanson called the UNKNOWN SOLDIER ISBN: 0307263703

Hanson focuses on three soldiers-an American aviator ( George Seibold), an Englishman (Alec Reader), and a rural schoolmaster’s song a German (Pau Hubb)-and narrates their war experiences through their diaries and letters. Hanson describes how each man endured the nearly unbearable conditions in the trenches and in the air and relates what is known about their deaths: all three died on the battlefields of the Somme, within gunshot sound of one another.
Hanson delves into their familial ties, the ideals they expressed in their letters, and he explains how the death of one, the American pilot George Seibold, was instrumental in the creation of the Gold Star Mothers, an organization caring for bereaved mothers, wives, and families that is still active today.
Hanson animates and brings to life the combatants who perished without a trace, and shows how the Western world arrived at the now time-honored way of mourning and paying tribute to all those who die in war. NE OBLIVISCARIS…DO NOT FORGET.
Here is an excerpt “Like the other Allied nations, the American military authorities took extraordinary precautions to ensure the identity of the Unknown Soldier would remain forever concealed. An unidentified body was to be exhumed from each of the four military cemeteries in the four main battlegrounds in which U.S. forces had been engaged : Belleau Wood, where they suffered the first large-scale tragedies and the Marines had added another exalted chapter to their legend……and Romagne-sous Mountaucon, where thousands of U. S. servicemen lost their lives in the last decisive battle of the war, and where, IN THREE HOURS (emphasis mine), U.S. forces had fired MORE SHELLS THAN HAD BEEN USED IN THE WHOLE OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR.” (page 334-335)
An unassuming English chaplain with Alec Reader’s 47th London Division, the Rev David Railton first proposed a symbolic burial of one of those unknown soldiers in memory of all the missing dead. The idea was picked up by almost every country that had an army in the war, and each laid a body to rest amid an outpouring of national grief -- in London's Westminster Abbey, Paris's Arc de Triomphe, Rome's Victor Emmanuelle Monument, and, for the United States, Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
I have been to all of these monuments and let me tell you the SCOTTISH-AMERICAN war memorial is one of the most impressive and moving monuments I have ever seen.
Alanson B Houghton the US ambassador to Britain said on 7 September 1927:
"Today we commemorate the Great War with the figure of a common soldier – one youth separated from the thronging files of recruits pressing on from behind – one youth within sound of the pipes and drums and within sight of the old Castle on the hill – one son of Scotland from a mansion or a manse or a mine, from a farm or a factory, from a Glasgow close or an Edinburgh lane – it matters not. For he came from all of these. He kept lonely company with his own soul in a tank or in a trench, on the sea or in the sky. And he went to his death alone."
THE FULL INSCRIPTION reads as follows in three of Scotland’s living languages….SAORSA GU BRATH…FOREVER FREE…..BYDAN FREE.


If it be life that awaits, Gin it’s decrete at life Mas e beath a tha n’ dan
I shall live, it tae pree, bidh bi beo
Forever unconquered, I’ll joy till’t gu siorraidh neo-cheannsaicte
If death, AYE BYDAN FREE mas e am bas,
I shall die at last, Gin it’s DAITH gheibh mi bas mu dheireadh
Strong in my pride , that weird I’ll maun dree. Laidir ‘nam uaisleachd,
And free! Leal tae masel, AGUS SAOR!
Yes, the Edinburgh memorial is among the most memorable and moving I have ever seen along with Abraham Lincoln’s memorial in Springfield but I must say nothing, for me, surpasses the Arlington Cemetery-Iwo Jima-Lincoln memorial triangle. But if you haven’t visited the Lincoln Tomb at Springfield it is most interesting to see.
Whenever I am in Washington I set aside one morning to walk in and around Arlington to see the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.
In those places, early in the morning one makes interesting acquaintances.
In my lifetime I have spoken there with veterans of the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.
One of the most unexpected a curious meeting was with a old Manxman who had served in the Struma Valley in 1917. There the British Army fought tough mountain campaigns against Bulgarian, Austrian and Germans. That Manxman was in his late eighties but very spry and active.
That Manxman was astonished that someone like me could know as much about that era as I did and he said I reminded him of Scottish soldier with whom he had had a drink in Salonika after the Americans had declared war. He did not remember the Jock’s name.
He said all of his life he thought of his comrades –he missed them every single day. The only thing that assuaged what he says was his shame and his loneliness was to remember them. I asked him why he felt shame and it was because he felt ashamed that he survived and that there was nothing he could do for those that were lost except honor their memory. When he did that he felt closer to them.
So he had felt compelled to visit all the tombs of the UNKNOWN SOLDIERS. That was his last pilgrimage because he was going to meet up with them soon.
That old British soldier invited me to a drink and we toasted the NAMELESS JOCK and ELLAN VANIN (Manx Gaelic for The Isle of Man).
We talked for a while and then he said his farewell, that old Veteran of the Great War.
I remember he told me with great thanks for my time and I told him the honor was all mine.
I told him, as I recall, “we’ll meet again, Sir, at sundown and continue the conversation.” He gave me a hearty handshake and his most sincere thanks. I ordered a cup a coffee and where he made one I turned down and empty glass.
Another day in Arlington, one cold December morning at Arlington I saw Mrs. Robert Kennedy leaving after she left a wreath on her husband’s grave; though I knew who she was I did not want to intrude on her private grief. Instead, I repeated a quiet prayer for her and her husband after she had gone.
I was returning home to my family for Christmas and she was returning to the place of an empty chair and a house that was forever desolate. Truly the paths of glory lead but to the grave.
There is a song I will play this afternoon. A SONG TO MACLEOD OF DUNVEGAN. I first heard DAVID SOLLEY sing it over thirty years ago;
WHERE MUSIC WAS WONT TO SOUND in the place resorted to by bands of bards
AND NOW ‘Tis without mirth, without pleasure, without merriment,
Without stories and entertainment, without feasting
Without the passing round of the drinking-quaichs in close succession,
Without dalliance with the bonnie lassies of the place
Without generosity to men of learning,
Without voice raised in tuneful song.
They made a brave show as they rose with banners unfurled,
And they forsook not
-FROM THE GAELIC of Roderick Morison (AN CLARSAIR DALL; the Blind Harper)
These are some musings this day.

We should all count our blessings on this day and be thankful for the gifts of LIFE, HEALTH, FRIENDS AND FAMILY as well as our SPLENDID ANCIENT HERITAGE –which we all share- OF FREEDOM.
I hope there will be new songs to remember things of AULD LANG SYNE (the Days FOREVER GONE BY) and those who gave their tomorrows for our today.

1 comment:

Zarina Smith said...

Thank you once again Richard. I hope to read this book!