When we lay down our weary guns

11 11 2018

The graveyards remain. Many of those who died in battle could never be laid to rest. Their bodies had been blown to pieces by shellfire and the fragments scattered beyond recognition. Many other bodies could not be recovered during the fighting and were then lost to view, entombed in crumbled shell holes or collapsed tranches or decomposing into into the broken soil battle left behind. Few Russian or Turkish soldiers were ever decently interred and many German and Austrian soldiers kill on the shifting battlefields of the Eastern Front simply returned to earth. On the fixed battlefields of the west, the combatants mad a better effort to observe the decencies. War cemeteries were organize from the outset, graves registration officers marked the plots and, when time permitted, chaplains and the dead men’s comrades observed the solemnities. Even so, at the war’s end, the remains of nearly half of those lost remained lost in actuality.  …

Their number is enormous. To the million dead of the British Empire and the 1,700,000 French dead, we must add 1,500,000 soldiers of the Hapsburg Empire who did not return, two million Germans, 460,000 Italians, 1,700,000 Russians, and many hundreds of thousands of Turks; their numbers were never counted.

—John Keegan The First World War

But perhaps the only truth that would emerge from the cataclysm which had shaken the world was that war inevitably breeds war, the triumph eventually turns into defeat, and that only the brotherhood of suffering endures.

That night of November 11 was one of jubilation for the victors and despair for the conquered. But at any rate the most brutal war of history had finally ended. General Wilson, walking home to Eaton Place from his dinner with Lloyd George and Churchill, was breasting the enthusiastic crown still swarming in front of Buckingham Palace. In the midst of unrestrained cheer, he came upon an elderly, well-dressed woman who was sobbing in loneliness. Distressed, Wilson said, “You are in trouble—is there anything that I can do for you?”

“Thank you. No. I am crying, but I am happy, for now I know that all of my three sons who have been killed in the war have not died in vain.”

—John Toland, No Man’s Land.

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11 11 2018

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