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In Flanders Fields, Lest we Forget

In the fever of the political moment the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month may pass with little mention. So I have re-written here the story of just one boy who never came home from the Great War.

When Private Cyrus David Johnson, aged 18, left the little NSW North Coast valley of Taylors Arm in 1917, carrying a cake made by his sister Lila for the journey, he was not to know that he would never return.

On March 3, 1918 Cyrus, or Cyrie as he was known to the family, was listed as missing in action after a raid on a “tower” in the village of Warneton in the heart of Flanders in Belgium.

Seventy two years passed and Cyrie’s parents, Mr and Mrs Charles Johnson, farmers of Taylors Arm, and four brothers and sisters had passed away, knowing little of how or where he died. By then only Ingeborg, (Mrs Ingeborg Hume of Garroorigang, Goulburn) was the sole survivor, then in her 82nd year.

She was my mother, and all my life I had listened to her occasionally sigh: “I wonder what happened to Cyrie”.

She had waved good-bye to her big brother when she was just eleven, and that moment was locked in her memory, like the pressed flower twixt the pages of her Bible. I did not venture an opinion. How could I? A long lost uncle I had never known? So I always remained silent till the moment of reflection and sadness had passed.

Until one day I opened an old hat box. Faded photos of a tall handsome lad in uniform, cards with silk threads and short messages to family from the Front; brief letters that told little of the hell of life in the trenches; heart wrenching letters from his young sister in boarding school, after he was gone, praying that he was safe somewhere, somehow.

And the telegram. To the point:

“Victoria Barracks 27/3/18. Mr C Johnson, Taylors Arm. Regret to inform you that No 3068 Private C D Johnson 36th Battalion is officially reported missing third third eighteen. Should any further information be received you will be informed immediately. Col Sandford.”

No condolences. Just regret, followed by a number. I guess he had signed thousands like it.

Cyrie’s father had not wanted him to go. He hated the Germans and the spike helmeted Prussians, and was haunted by the brutality of the latter when they invaded parts of his Danish homeland in 1864 under the orders of the Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismark. But Cyrie was determined to embark on the big adventure. His brother in law was already on his way home from visiting family in Scotland to enlist when Cyrie was still only a school boy in 1914

Writing to his sister Emily from Scots College in Sydney on August 12, 1914, he said:

“I got a card from Bob from Colombo. He should be nearly home if the Germans have not collared him. Don’t you admire those little Belgians putting up such a fight against the Germans. There is no end of excitement in the city. You see groups of people standing all over the place discussing the war. Out at the heads all the big guns are uncovered and there are crowds of soldiers walking up and down all day, some of them with glasses, looking out to sea. They shot a German spy out there the other day.”

Cyrie was not to know that four years later he would die fighting for the Belgians himself. He arrived at the Front following the appalling losses the Allies suffered at the Battle of Passchendaele, and was deployed to the Ypres salient, there to die only three months later on the day the Russians withdrew from the War.

I rang the War Memorial and asked if they would like to make copies of the material. They would. I took it in and a few months later went to collect it. I chatted to the Archivist and got up to leave. I looked back from the door and said: You know, they never did find out what happened to that boy:”

“Did you check the Red Cross files”, he asked. No. I had not heard of them. “Well there are only 2000 so it is a long shot. If someone asked the Red Cross to investigate the circumstances of missing in action soldiers they would do their best, given the carnage on the Western Front”, he told me. We checked and there indeed to my utter astonishment was a file. I sat down and read it through. A brief letter from a British soldier asking the Red Cross “if they could try and find out what happened to my good mate Cryus Johnson”.

Then followed ten slips of paper, some with hearsay evidence of what might have happened. The last one told me the truth.

Ypres Salient, 1918 by WA Thorne, Pte 3135 36th Battalion:

“Johnson was in my platoon, N0 12, C Company. He was about 5.8 in height and fair haired. We were coming back after having raided Fritz. Johnson was stretcher bearer at the time carrying a Sgt when he took a wrong turning and got right in the line of a Fritz machine gun. He was killed outright by a bullet hitting him in the stomach. We were only a few yards away at the time and I heard him drop and groan. The Sgt and the other stretcher bearer were also killed. Some of our boys saw him fall but I cannot give the name of anyone. We all heard him fall. Johnson was left where he fell. Dartford 11.7.18.”

Another note referred to the raid, and of their losing their way back in the dark. It was 1am when Cyrie fell and “they could not get his tags because of the machine gun fire”.

I knew I had to ring my mother. I read the file to her. There was a long long pause, and I wondered if it would not have been better to have left well alone. "But we always thought he died in France, not Belgium," she said.

We knew that she needed to go. So we took her to Flanders, to Ypres, across the Messines Ridge. We took her to the Menin Gate and found her brother’s name amidst the fallen of no known grave. She bought a bunch of red roses in the little village of Ypres and laid them under his name. She stood to attention that night as the Fire Station buglers played the Last Post, as they have done every night at 8pm since 1929 under the Menin Gate.

We took her to the small war cemetery at Kandahar Farm to see the grave of another boy from the valley, there to take a photo to give to one of his four fatherless sons, by now himself an old man.

We took her to see the village of Warneton and the Tower, still riddled with bullets. And we stood her in the fields between there and the place where her brother’s battalion was stationed. There we told her brother had fallen, seventy two years ago. Then we took her home.

She died just a month before the burial of the Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial. We laid a poppy for Cyrie on that day as she would have wanted us to do. The Canberra Times published Cyrie’s story in its cover sheet Our Day of Memory.

Cyrie was not the only boy from the valley not to return, with one mother losing her three sons.

It may be too late to mourn these farm lads from the little valley of Taylors Arm. But it is never too late to remember.

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A shuddering shock.

Today I had the privilege to have lunch with a 91 year old veteran of World War II. James Watt, now blind and very frail, told me of his experiences in the War both in Tobruk and New Guinea. He told me of friends killed and the horrors of his war. Jim came back to Australia after the war and was for a while the head master of Carivonica State School in Cairns. His mind is still strong and he loves poetry. He recited with strong passion the following poem he has written of his experience, which brought most of us to tears.

A shuddering shock

A shuddering shock shakes all the ground.
A shell has hit the dug out's wall
Steel gouges flesh, the walls cave in.
Fumes and chocking smoke and filth and soil.
And from this wreck I drag a man.

Look well at him, look long and think.
His clotted blood hangs down in strings.
He's dead, just a bloody heap.
Look long at him and think. Who killed him?

Was it you the British Empire?
Or you, the German Reich?
Or you the politician?
Or you financial giant?

Turn not away. It was not you.
In your vile stupidity it was not you who set the guns a screaming.
In their blind mad lust for power.
It was not you who put this man to death.

It was you my fellow worker.
With your knowledge but no creed.
With your loss of decent ethics.
and your paltriness and greed.
It was you my fellow worker.
Who set the guns a screaming.
And put this man to death.

No hope has politician's bribes.
Or false financier's tempting lie.
If we but showed in times of peace.
The manhood shown in war.

The media's self seeking silver tongue.
The fake ideals that corrupt our young.
All count for nought.
If we but showed in times of peace.
The manhood shown in war.

Of old soldiers, kids and their pennies

Here I was writing about a WW1 soldier whom I never knew but who was a shadowy figure throughout my life. Hard to believe he has now been gone for nearly ninety years, along with all those who mourned him.

And now we write of the WW2 vets being in their nineties and more. Yet they were in my childhood fresh faced young men marching every April, in their twenties and thirties, while the WW1 vets ( I can still them today, whole companies of them marching past)  were only middle aged. And now even the Vietnam vets are grey haired men.

Before my eyes I have watched three generations of soldiers march by and it all seems like yesterday, yet it is all so long ago. The full ranks of thousands of young men have vanished in one lifetime.

Today an early childhood friend emailed me from Kempsey. She said they used to get their pocket money from off the railway line, pennies dropped by the soldiers on their way through to Brisbane. I found the street gutters more yielding. It never occurred to me to check the railway line, but then again I was under five. But it seems some more adventurous little souls were on the railway line. Its a wonder they weren't killed but I guess the trains were a lot slower in those days.

Yes, all seems so long ago. Soldiers on the way to war, and kids and their pennies. All old now, kids as well as the soldiers.

It is when you get older that the past, despite its losses, becomes a more familiar place, and the future less friendly and inviting.

Just musing folks. Don't mind me.

Richard:  Jenny, do you feel like writing us a piece along this line of thought? 

Which line of thought is that Richard

Richard, could do but which line of thought in particular? Old soldiers, living with the past?

I'm told I live too much in the past. My late father, a rather fine historian, used to say: To live with the past is enchanting, to live in the past has nothing to offer.

I am not sure he was right, on either score.

Am going to do a story of a WW2 Australian airman for Anzac Day. Forgoten hero out here but not in Britain. VC winner. Like the uncle I never knew from WW1 he was the cousin I never knew from WW2. Both just ghosts in the family story to me, till you talk to those who loved and knew them. 

Tell me what you had in mind and will see. Am working on a book at the moment.  Title: Down Vanished Years, about early pioneers of the Macleay District. Yes, about the past again.

Got a couple of CDs for you. You will have my email on WD file so email me a mailing address and when I get near a post office out here, I will send them. Ian setting old Henry Lawson to music and one of his own compositions. Check out the former against that Red Gum lot down there. They missed the essence of old Henry in my humble....

Cheers to you good sir.

That reminds me

John, that reminds me of when we visited the Cafe Hill 60 in Flanders, near Ypres. It is set up a the base of a tiny hillock, not really a hill, over which both sides fought for control. It is pitted with shell holes to this day. In the cafe the owner has a row of those old stereo viewing boxes. His father bought boxes of the slides he found in Paris many years before and you could put a coin in and see the scenes taken in the trenches on the Front. The photographer captured not only the terrible carnage, but even the expressions on the faces. I recall one of two French soldiers gazing blankly at the photographer while a shell exploded behind them. Others were so horrific I could not look at them.

My mother took a look at one set and could not bear anymore. I think it really brought home to her how her brother had died. It was simply too much for her, so we left.

There is no glory in war. Never was.

I made it to the old soldier's funeral last week. As they die they take the memory of war with them. We can never really know what they  went through. But because of what they did go through, we in the West have enjoyed decades of peace. That is their legacy. Had they not fought, who knows where we would all be now, and what sort of life we would have had. Some wars have to be fought.

Mystery Wonder Awe ...and a dirty old man?

"Of course the non believers here will laugh at such a notion. But that is OK."

Jenny, I read your post and it gave me goose bumps; happens rarely when I read stuff, usually happens with music. I'm sure we all know what I mean. 

Thanks sweet and precious one, for this is the stuff that transcends intelligence, and presents life as the mysterious and wonderful experience it actually is; no matter what we choose to believe.

BTW, I once saw a cloud bank morph into a busty naked female posing in a rather unlady like manner - as a matter of fact I've seen similar more than once. On the other hand I've never seen a naked male cloud. I wonder if the cloud God is trying to tell me something, and if so what? 

In the eyes of the beholder

Well now Justin, it's all in the eyes of the beholder. And we see, my friend, what we want to see, do we not? So?

But I agree, some things transcend intelligence. I have had some experiences in my life but this was the most strange. 

Am off tomorrow to Bleak City to farewell the old soldier. Round trip of 2800 kms from the western plains. But there is no way I would not be there. 103 years of life. They take so much with them when they go, these old folk. And you miss them.

Kathy, got your email  thanks. Been thinnking of you. You know I understand.

Angela, I think I'm more of a hen really. After all, I've been scratching in the dirt all my life. An albatross is the farm debt that hangs around one's neck.

Cheers.  Better go pack. Long journey coming up.

Epilogue and a message from God

The Bob that Cyrie wrote about as a schoolboy in 1912, hoping the Germans had not collared him did return from Scotland and enlist. He married my aunt, Cyrie's sister who baked the cake for Cyrie to take as he himself left for the war in 1917, never to return.

Bob left for the Front two weeks after his marriage and was himself wounded in Flanders fields. He ultimately returned home to his wife and a baby daugher. Today that baby daughter, my cousin, is 91 and her soldier husband of of the Second World War died this week at 103. They had been married 65 years. I visited them the week before Christmas and played the piano for them while the old soldier sang, effortlessly reaching the high note of Danny Boy. Not bad at 103.

I have been feeling really sad that this old soldier has gone. But as I lay in bed last night a strange thing happened. The full moon was in the eastern sky, hovering above the Warrumbungles and the dark plains with clouds obscuring much of it. Then suddenly one narrow moonbeam broke free and travelled through the sky, through the big window of our bedroom across the room and came to rest on my face. There is stayed for several minutes, just a narrow beam of bright light in the darkness, shining on my face. I was spellbound and could gaze along it right to the face of the moon.

The Aaronic Blessing ran through my mind:

The Lord Bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
And be gracious unto to you
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you
And give you peace.

Never have I felt such peace or felt so close to those that have gone as when that moonbeam shone upon me. Such experience I have never had before. Ian was amazed as it lit up my face in the darkness.

It was for me a message from that old soldier and from God. It was a message that gave me peace.

Of course the non believers here will laugh at such a notion. But that is OK.

ethereal albatross that none dares shoot or scoff

Jenny, that was beautiful. We sceptical antiwar scrutinisers only scoff at albatross. Not at moonbeams enlightening. Many things can be enlightening and sometimes just the most important things are revealed.

Usually it is only the albatross that flies along the moonbeams and the poor hens miss the whole thing stuck in the coop. Now watch out, Jenny you are Albatross material and may be shot down by hydrophobic hallucinators about to wear a curse.

Weird but I had the same experience as yours on a nearby face just after a special funeral.. It feels quite ethereal.


Wow.. Jen!

Beautiful ... Jen!

Such a wonderful uplifting and spiritual experience for you.  Certainly a message of comfort, and of hope and joy!  And  who cares what the non believers think, eh? (winks).

PS Will email you tomorrow. Have had a very busy week.

Cheers and God Bless my dear!

cowardice and courage

My great uncle, James Lee, was a conscientious objector during WWI up until he was sent white feathers by some imperial minded jingo in the small Hunter Valley coal mining town of Minmi.  He enlisted and was posted to a field ambulance subsequent to his ongoing refusal to be an active combatant. Decorated for valour.

Last weekend my daughter, a secondary school student, laid a wreathe at the Martin Place Cenotaph.  To my very great delight, having done her own reading and research, she is also now of the mind that the old WWI slogan needs no embellishment:

"A bayonet is a weapon with a member of the working class on either end".

 I remember and honour all those in WWI, WWII, the VietNam and other wars, who had the courage to say 'no' to war, killing, violence.


Free to honour them

You can have freedom and be able to express your views, or you can have oppression and enforced silence. Those who are never prepared to fight for their freedom must be prepared to be victims of oppression. And oppression is just another word for violence. Not to oppose and fight those who would threaten our freedom and seek to oppress and violate us or our families is not courage in my opinion.

I honour those who stood up and fought and died that we and millions of others in Europe might  live in freedom.

I am not talking about Vietnam here or Iraq. I am talking about WW1 and WW2. Our freedom to express our views here today is predicated on the blood of those who chose to fight the Germans and the Japanese. Simple as that.

And we all know how the Germans and the Japanese treated workers they conscripted once they had crushed all opposition in the countries they overran.

Give me a bayonet any day rather than ask me to be a worker under such as them. Some fates are worse than death.

Better late than never.

Just now read your post Jenny. Sorry, I somehow missed it  with all this Howard, Rudd stuff going down.

A beautiful, poignant story dear Jen.

And you are most certainly right...

"It is never too late to remember."

Kathy - politics and school days

Just to say Hi, and I agree all this political stuff is drowning us all. I am avoiding it all in the interest of my sanity and stress levels, the latter being off the scale right now.

But this past weekend we had a lovely school reunion for our 50th. I did not think I would be able to do it, but I battled through and am glad I did. The girls had a wonderful time and one of our teachers from 1955 came, and believe it or not is still doing some relief teaching. She has taught for over sixty years now. She was such a gifted teacher and it gave us the chance to let her know what a wonderful contribution she had made to our education all those years ago. And we had been able to get the 1950s 78 record found in a junk shop onto DVD, the school choir singing the School Song all those years ago and on the reverse side the most beautiful song, A Little Place of Rest. I had never heard it before but it is just haunting, with the sweet voices of those school girls from the distant past. I gave all the girls a copy.

Had a lovely letter from cousin Jo Valentine over your way. She told me her sister's daughter, Mary Jo Fisher is in the SA Parliament and diametrically opposite in her views to those of Jo, and is ultra conservative. Jo was quite a radical. Must make for interesting family dinners I said.

I think we will vote Independent in our electorate and alternative parties for the Senate. There needs to be some restraint on these major parties. All this spending all of a sudden, just when growth is not such a good idea. Go for growth, go for broke it seems to me. But at least some of the needy groups are getting a bit and about time. I hope you benefit from the carers relief.

Cheers my dear. Not blogging much at the moment. Need to find That Little Place of Rest for myself. 

Yeah, remember Jo over

Yeah, remember  Jo over here in the West. I certainly admired her courage and  fortitude.

Jo was, and still is I think a highly revered person over here in the west.

I for one thought she was a breath of fresh air.

She never compromised her beliefs.


Sounds a bit like someone I know!!

"Give me a bayonet any day rather than ask me to be a worker under such as them.Some fates are worse than death."

With that statement, I heartily concur, Jen!

Hamish and Richard, and those white feathers

Hamish: I am glad you appreciate the piece I wrote. The Bob referred to in Cyrie's letter while at school did enlist on his return to Australia, only to be wounded himself in Flanders. His daughter was born while he was on the Front. She is my first cousin and is now 90. It is a bit disconcerting to have a first cousin aged 90 but in large families it was not uncommon to have older children married when their siblings were still being born, and my mother was the youngest in her family.

Richard: I hope your fears never materialise. 

As for the white feather brigade and their admirers, well their freedom was predicated on the sacrifice of all those young men in the two great wars, neither of which were started by the Allies. It behoves them to remember that they would have been given no quarter from the jack booted German and Japanese imperialists if those wars had been lost. But I doubt they can understand that. So be it.

WWI, Siegfied Sassoon, and cowardice

Jenny - first up, great piece.  And like most others here I believe in the importance of honouring all those Australians who have died in war.  I have relatives who fought in both world wars. 

But having recently read Les Carlyon’s The Great War, you’d have to work pretty hard to convince me that 60,000 Australian lives were not thrown away needlessly in the First World War. 

The Western Front was a kind of mass insanity in which millions of lives were thrown away for ‘successes’ that more often than not were measured by the yard.  Suicidal tactics, like sending men walking across land denuded of all cover into a hail of machine gun fire, were repeated over and over and over, for years.  The Nek 1915, the Somme, 1917, pick a battle – most resulted in dreadful carnage, and when it was all over the lines on the map had barely changed from where they were two years before. 

Casualties in the tens of thousands were considered ‘acceptable’ or even 'low'. 

Something like 5,000 men died on the last day of the war, many of them sent into battles by commanders who knew the armistice was due at 11am. 

Siegfried Sassoon was one of the bravest soldiers an army could hope to have, yet he wrote to his commanding officer what many consider a treasonous letter.  Here is part of the text:

I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of agression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them and that had this been done the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolonging these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not have enough imagination to realise.

Sassoon went back to the Western Front after a spell in Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he was sent for treatment of ‘shell shock’ so he wouldn’t have to be court martialled.  He was feted by pacifists but in the end he couldn't leave his fellow soldiers. 

The 'callous complacency' Sassoon spoke of is part of the reason, I think, why we need to remember and honour such men.  So that when we send men to their deaths we have some understanding of what we’re really doing.

technology and war

David, you do make a valid point about the sheer brutality of WW1 fighting, but the benefit of 80 years of technology has made things far more obvious than they were at the time.

Go back to 1915 for a second though. At this time there was no radio, no missiles, no aircraft capable of any level of precision bombing, no semi automatic weapons, no tanks. In sort, the foundations of the modern military barely existed. The one exception was that most indispensable of ground weapons - the machine gun. Artillery also existed although fire control was not very refined.

The point was that it was quickly found that one machine gun, properly sited, could stop an attack dead. Remember, no radio. You couldn't call in artillery or have a platoon move around to try and flank a position. That had to be done with runners and that took time.

The technology, while crude, had gone past the tactics in leaps and bounds. There was simply no other means to break a strong defensive position than by trying to pulverise it with artillery and then attack it ... usually with a frontal assault. If the barrage was timed correctly, the infantry could creep up behind it and be in the enemy positions before they could move into defensive positions. Sadly, most of the barrages weren't timed properly and appalling casualties were the result.

Im not defending the dismal attitudes of many of the senior commanders at all. Many were out of their depth. Not only the Poms either. The charge at the Nek in 1915 owes more to Australian ineptitude than anything else. But for them to be overwhelmed and not fully appreciate the situation was hardly new. It took until 1917 - 1918 for an appreciation of combined arms to finally sink in. The efforts by the Australian and American troops in the last months of  fighting are stunning.

For an insight into the fighting on the Somme you might find Pozieres 1916 by Peter Charlton of interest. It gives much information on the fighting and the effects on the troops.

Jenny, congratulations on a wonderful contribution.

Margo, I'm voting for Pat Farmer who is a good local member. My preference would be for a Coalition win because my views on IR and some other issues are closer to them than the ALP.  I won't vote Green because they continually complain about the ALP and then promptly run to do cosy little preference deals with them. Disgusting, cynical and hypocritical.

Margo: Why hypocritical, Craig? The Greens want a change of government. Why wouldn't they preference Labor?  Both Labor and the Greens want Howard to lose control of the Senate, as do, I assume, the vast bulk of those who vote for them. Where's the cynicism, please. Can't see any myself.

Pozieres Craig

Craig Warton: Thank you. And you expanded on the point I was making to David very well about warfare in WW1.  

As a light aside, I always think about the Front at Pozieres when I see what the echidnas do to the big ant nests out west here. It is quite an amazing sight. Trenches in every direction all over the nests, and after awhile not an ant to be found alive.

The one under the house scrabbles around all night keeping one awake as his quills scratch and scrape on the floor boards. Then he sets out for the Front at dawn, returning well satisfied with himself to sleep out the day, only to wake at midnight and start the whole exercise again.

He managed to kill a red gum tree too, leaving it like those skeletal trees on the Front. He did that by excavating the bark around the base to get all the titbits hiding there. I caught him at it at dawn, and confronted him over that, only to have him curl up and pretend I was not there. So I crept back the house and watched. He waited about a full ten minutes then made a dash for the house. They can move if they want to, I have discovered.

Such is life in the slow lane out west.


The Greens

Margo, these are the same Greens that preferenced and helped return the totally inept state ALP government, right?

Remember the desalination plant they bitterly opposed? Then they did a preference deal with the very party proposing it.

I am sure you can justify that, or a myriad of other deals but I can't. But the point is that it is only by preference deals with one or the other of the parties that the Greens have any power, isnt it?

Sorry Margo, but you can't criticize the major parties for playing games and then support another party that does exactly the same. For all the talk of voting for an alternative, you are voting for the ALP. It just makes people feel better that its by a preference deal.

Im sure that someone will say state and federal matters are totally different. Funnily enough though, every time there is a problem in NSW they try to blame the Federal Government.

On the IR front, I dont have too big an issue with people being able to collectively bargain if they wish - but that isnt ALP policy which is if a majority want a collective deal (51%) then all have to be in. That is no more fair than no collective bargaining and when we all know that the main reason is to build union revenue from fees from non union members I dont see any reason to support that. 

PS. Probably not a good thing to put in the Flanders thing, if you can find a more suitable spot for it please do!  

Lying Greens

Margo, the Greens are fond of talking about contributions to political parties, but they do it by cheating. In Tasmania, Brown's home State, they illegally used money for political advertising. Peg Putt has a lot to answer for. They really are a load of political hypocrites.

How the war was fought

David: Hi. Glad you appreciate the piece, for what it is. I could not agree more that thousands upon thousands of lives were lost on the Western Front in seemingly senseless charges to certain death. But that was because of the way the war was fought, and does mean the war should not have been fought.  Clearly there were some terrible mistakes made in how WW1 was fought by various commanders, but I guess we have also to remember that this was before the era of armoured vehicles, tanks, air power and such modern weapons that has made trench warfare of that kind a thing of the past. The Front had to be held and held it was, at a terrible price. We can only guess at the consequences for us all if both wars had been lost, but one does not need much imagination.  

Dr Woodfoode: Yes I would agree that it is not only the front line soldier that protects our freedom. It was also all those on the home front, and behind the lines who contributed in a multitude of ways to the war effort. As for the Japanese being on our side in WW1, that is irrelevant to their role in WW2. And as I said I am not referring to the Vietnam war or seeking to argue for or against it.

Kathy. Cheers to you my dear. Yes, Jo was good value.


JH, the Nips were on our side, 1914-18. So were the Viets - Ho Chi Minh attended the Somme as one of the slaves of France, with all the freedoms we "guaranteed." My grandfather was no nong, and he worked hard and courageously for your freedom too, young lady. As you must know in your heart, there's a lot more to fighting for freedom than a a simple-minded excitable rush to cluster like slaves beneath the wicked Union Jack. Thank Christ not all Australians led the charge. And certainly not these days.

Rev Dr Woodforde, OAM, OBE, &c

The white feather

We should also, on 11 November, honour the blokes who copped white feathers from the British Empire dunces for not going.

They showed true courage and strength, wouldn't you say? Or are we too weak in this wonderful era of Empire and illegal war?

Dr Woodforde, OAM

Richard:  And don't forget, Peter those who upon receiving the feathers felt that the only way to restore their honour was to go and fight... and die.  Of course, such things would never happen again... 


One of my grandfathers, a timbergetter, used to wear his white feathers in his hat during WWI, and stayed on the farm where he reared a tribe of kids.

He was religious but not a pacifist; simply a bloke who despised imperial wars, even Australian Imperial Wars.

Dr Woodforde, OAM


Siegfried Sassoon. Too unsophisticated, some say, to be their favourite WWI poet, but he is mine.  I prefer impact over sophistication. This is Suicide in the Trenches:
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.     
No one spoke of him again. 
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye     
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know     
The hell where youth and laughter go.    

I have the pictures

I have the pictures my great uncle was carrying in his breast pocket when he was shot, the day before Armistice Day. The bullet went straight through them.

If we have to ever again endure the loss of such a large percentage of our communities, I hope we can be endure and persevere as did the people of that time. But surely we're not stupid enough to repeat the process?

I have nightmares that prefer not to talk about. They're my way, I think, of knowing what to do if I need to. If I ever need to use this "knowledge" I will, afterwards, be after the people who forced me to use it, and it won't be the Iranians.

To quote Eric Bogle:

The suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the pain
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain
For, Willie McBride, it all happened again
and again and again and again and again

Time for it to stop. But the bandages are on standby.

Thanks Jenny

Remembrance day is important to me. It is for me neither nationalistic or militaristic. It is not about whose side you're on or who won. It is just about remembering the tragedy of war which is in reality the sum of millions of small tragedies like the one you have described.

For the last two years I have made a Remembrance Day contribution to Webdiary and I logged on this morning thinking maybe I should come up with something again. But you have done beautifully, and my eyes watered and I remembered why war just sucks.


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