November 11, 2003

The Old Front Line

I wholeheartedly endorse Robert Musil's sentiments about Veterans' Day, and have little to add:

I sometimes wonder if those of us who did not serve in the Armed Forces can ever understand what that involves - still less what is involved in combat.

I can add that I'm grateful to the men and women who know what this entails.

Since Veterans' Day commemorates the armistice that ended the First World War (November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.), I thought I'd quote a few lines from a book on the Battle of the Somme, The Old Front Line, by John Masefield:

The battle was the most terrible in British history. It killed or maimed over one million, two hundred thousand men, over half a million of them British. It has been said, with truth, that the flower of the British Empire died on the Somme. It broke the back of the German field army, and killed the cream of their infantry, the finest professional troops in Europe. For the men who fought there, and the nations they fought for, it was never the same after the Somme.

But it is the soldiers themselves we remember on Veterans' Day, and it's worth recalling, as Masefield eloquently does, what it was like to "go over the top":

The men of the first wave climbed up the parapets, in tumult, darkness, and the presence of death, and having done with all the pleasant things, advanced across the No Man's Land to begin the Battle of the Somme.

Posted by Ideofact at November 11, 2003 11:42 PM