REMEMBRANCE POETRY – Reflections at Evensong on Remembrance Day

Canon Gary Philbrick, Remembrance Sunday, November 10th, 2019, 6.30p.m., St Mary’s, Fordingbridge.

Ps. 40:1-10, I Kings 3:1-15. Romans 8:31-end

Three poems for Remembrance Sunday:

The first is in memory of Nelson French, a regular at Evensong, whose funeral is next Friday, and who asked to read this a poem year ago today at the Evening Service of Prayers for Peace and Reconciliation, as we commemorated the Centenary of the end of the First World War.

One verse is very familiar – we heard
it at the Remembrance Service this morning – the rest less so.  This is one of the poems which was written
during the early part of the War, in 1914, in fact, when the full horrors of
the war were just beginning to become apparent.

It’s called: For the Fallen, by Laurence Binyon:

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, 

England mourns for her dead across the sea. 

Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, 

Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal 

Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres, 

There is music in the midst of desolation 

And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young, 

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. 

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; 

They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning 

We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; 

They sit no more at familiar tables of home; 

They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; 

They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound, 

Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, 

To the innermost heart of their own land they are known 

As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, 

Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; 

As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, 

To the end, to the end, they remain.

Source: The London Times (1914)

The second is the one that was on the back of the Order of Service this morning, and alluded to, but not read.  This was written in 1919, and is Siegfried Sassoon’s Aftermath. It has a particular link here, as there is a memorial on the wall, by the North Door, to William Robert Hewitt, who died at Mametz, which is near the Somme, in France, and which is mentioned in Sassoon’s poem.  Amazingly, Siegfried Sassoon, who was born in 1886, didn’t die until 1967.

Aftermath

Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same—and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz—
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack—
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads—those ashen-gray
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the slain of the war that you’ll never forget!

And the third is The Poppy, by Paul Benton.  Paul is a joiner, curiously, from Benton in Newcastle, and wrote this in 2014, after seeing a Facebook post from a friend who was a serving soldier, and who wrote, ‘It’s more than just a poppy’.

The Poppy

I am not a badge of honour,

I am not a racist smear,

I am not a fashion statement,

To be worn but once a year,

I am not glorification

Of conflict or of war.

I am not a paper ornament

A token,

I am more.

I am a loving memory,

Of a father or a son,

A permanent reminder

Of each and every one.

I’m paper or enamel

I’m old or shining new,

I’m a way of saying thank you,

To every one of you.

I am a simple poppy

A Reminder to you all,

That courage faith and honour,

Will stand where heroes fall.

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