In the coming week we will commemorate the 98th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that brought about the end of the First World War. The date is marked in many countries around the world such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, The USA, Canada, France, Belgium and Serbia. The armistice was famously signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, it has become an annual tradition to take two minutes silence at this time in order to remember and honour those who have given their lives in service of their country.
The End of InnocenceThe First World War stands as one of the most devastating conflicts in all of human history, lasting over four years with an estimated death toll of between 15 and 21 million people. The conflict marks a crossroad between the mostly archaic styles of warfare practiced up to the 19th century and the industrialised, large-scale warfare that would become a key feature of the 20th century. The First World War introduced the use of chemical weapons, machine guns, tanks and many other modern tactical weapons, forever changing our collective perception of war. Because of this new technology each side reached a stalemate which brought about the trench warfare that was to become the defining feature of the conflict and greatly contributed to the casualties on both sides. The horrors of trench warfare cannot be understated, disease was rampant in the trenches; trench foot - a fungal infection caused by the damp, muddy conditions, those who suffered would often need amputations, trench fever - a disease born by insects that would produce fevers and pain in the sufferers and also typhoid - caused by drinking contaminated water. These are just some of the physical maladies that befell the soldiers in the trenches however, the constant artillery bombardment as well as the ever present specter of death caused severe psychological harm in the soldiers, shell shock being a notable example of this. Unfortunately, many of the soldiers who presented with psychological conditions were treated as cowards by the military establishment with some even being subject to courts-martial for their supposed crime. The First World War signifies the end of the age of innocence that preceded it and brought humanity sharply into the twentieth century. As a means of dealing with the horrors of the war, many turned to poetry to voice their views. Among the most revered poets of the First World War were Sigfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen (whose poem Dulce Et Decorum Est deals with the horror of the war in a way that is still affecting to this day ) and John McCrae. It is John McCrae who I would like to look at in a little more depth in this piece.
John McCraeJohn McCrae was born in Guelph, Canada in 1872, a third generation Canadian with Scottish grandparents. John McCrae was an exceptionally talented man, taking a degree in Medicine and working as a physician at Toronto General Hospital before enlisting in the armed forces during the Boer War. In the First World War, McCrae was the first Canadian to be made a consulting surgeon to the British Army. McCrae was present at the Second Battle of Ypres during which an estimated 7,000 casualties were caused by poison gas with 1,000 Canadian deaths, among the estimated 100,000 deaths in total. The town of Ypres was totally destroyed by the artillery barrage. McCrae was inspired to write his famous poem, In Flanders Fields, after presiding over a friend’s funeral following the Battle of Ypres. The poem is written from the point of view of the dead soldiers.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
Armistice Day in the 21st CenturyUnfortunately war is not a thing of the past, its horrors plague the lives of countless people around the globe with humanity seemingly incapable of learning from its past mistakes. Of course, armies are made up of soldiers and these soldiers still valiantly risk their lives in carrying out their jobs. Both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday are days that we can not only think about those who have fallen in battle in the past, but also honour those still in active service. As well as honouring these men and women, it is also worth thinking about how we can support them once they return from service. The Poppy Appeal set up by the Royal British Legion raises money to provide support for veterans and also to campaign on their behalf, for more information on the Poppy Appeal, click here. Help for Heroes is another fantastic charity working to provide support for injured ex-servicemen and women. The charity was established in 2007 by Bryn and Emma Parry after visiting soldiers in hospital and deciding they could do something to help. Help for Heroes currently runs four recovery centres around the UK as well as getting veterans involved in sporting events such as the Paralympics and the Invictus games. We here at ScotlandShop.com stock a range of products in Help for Heroes tartan, with each sale making a donation to the charity.
If you feel you are able to support any of our ex-servicemen and women in any way, we here at ScotlandShop.com urge you to do what you can.