Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Green Fields Of France

A British trench near the Albert-Bapaume road ...Image via Wikipedia
Today is Armistice day in the UK (also known as Remembrance Day). It commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Rethondes, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o'clock in the morning — the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month". Wanting to mark it in my own way I have racked my brains to come up with the right words but I really cannot do any better than Eric Bogle. He wrote a song called The Green Fields of France. Often called Willy McBride, it is about a young soldier who, like millions of others, did not make it to 1918 and the end of the war. Thanks must go to a friend of mine who reminded me of this beautiful but haunting song on Facebook. I first came across it in Ireland (where I lived for many years) as it is a very popular song over there. Made famous by The Fureys, an uncle of my wife sang it A Capella at one of the many "sing alongs" that occur very regularly at Irish gatherings and I have loved it ever since. Entirely without permission, I have reproduced the lyrics below. Perhaps they will stir you to take moment to remember them...

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.

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