Thursday, November 11, 2010

On the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month....


.... The First World War ended - not officially, of course. That would have to wait until the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed on June 28, 1919. However, it was on this day, the feast day of St. Martin of Tours* that the armistice was signed and hostilities ceased. Most countries commemorate this event with a holiday on, or near to, the anniversary of the Armistice. Here, of course, it is Veterans' Day, and we honour those who have served in the Armed Forces, particularly those who are still living.

We always have a little ceremony at the local branch of the VFW to commemorate Veterans' Day. There are the usual speeches, prayers, and poem-readings that occur every year. My little (at the moment very little) pipe band always play for it, and a bugler plays Taps at the closing of the ceremony. It is simple, and, I suppose, just the least little bit cheesy, but I like it. I like Veterans' Day in generally. Aside from Memorial Day, it is the only secular holiday that I truly do enjoy. I think it is because it is one of the few times a year in which people actually stop to seriously consider self-sacrifice and the suffering that necessarily goes along with it, as things that are good and noble in themselves. That a man who is willing to take on suffering for the greater good, is worthy of praise and honour. Too often people consider suffering an injustice, and dying for a cause as a waste. Veterans' Day (and even more, Memorial Day) gives the lie to this sort of narrow-minded and selfish thinking. It places before our eyes the courage and sacrifice that previous generations displayed, so that we are able to live as we do. We are forced to consider the courage and sacrifice of younger soldiers, who have seen service in our own life-times, with all the hard reality that goes along with those sacrifices, and to consider what our own obligations are in respect to God, our Country, and each other. It is a rather humbling experience.

So here, in honour of Veterans' Day, I present a poem by William Noel Hodgson, who wrote it before going into action on the Somme.

Before Action

By all the glories of the day
And cool evening's benison,
By the last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, Lord.

By all of all men's hopes and fears,
And all the wonders poets sing
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of Thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword,
Must say good-bye to all of this---
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.

* I have always thought it was particularly fitting that we celebrate soldiers on the feast day of the great soldier-saint, Martin of Tours. I found out today that there is very likely no coincidence in this, and that St. Martin's day was chosen especially as the day of armistice, because he is the patron saint of soldiers.

2 comments:

Teresa said...

Sigh....cool

Molly said...

I am ashamed to relate that I had no idea that was St. Martin's feastday. Thanks for that, and for the poem.