Prieres - 12 November 2014

en - A hundred years since the beginning of World War 1

Celebration? No! Commemoration is a better way of remembering the First World War in which 16 million died and about 20 million were wounded; a war that cast a long shadow over the decades that followed. Let us remember it in a spirit of repentance and reconciliation. `Remembering war needs to be done in a spirit of reconciliation’ said Pope Benedict XV, the lone voice among the world’s leaders at the time to speak up for dialogue and the cessation of hostilities. He bore witness to the `suicide of Europe’ and later came the disintegration of empires.

July 1914, Anna Akhmatova (Russia)

 We aged a hundred years and this descended 

 in just one hour, as at a stroke.

The summer had been brief and now was ended;

The body of the ploughed plains lay in smoke.

The hushed road burst in colours, then, a soaring

lament rose, ringing silver like a bell. 

And so I covered up my face, imploring 

God to destroy me before battle fell.

And from my memory the shadows vanished 

of songs and passions – burdens I’d not need.

The Almighty bade it be – with all else banished -

a book of portents terrible to read.

`War, never again, no more one against the other, no more, never....never again war.’ Pope Paul VI. `Violence and war only lead to death. Violence is not answered by violence, death is not answered with the language of death. ‘Pope Francis Sept 2013.

1917 Siegfried Sassoon (England) `Attack’

At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun 

in the wild purple of the glowering sun,

smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud 

 the menacing scarred slope; and, one by one, 

tanks creep and topple forward to the wire. 

The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed

with bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear, 

men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire. 

Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear, 

they leave their trenches, going over the top, 

while time ticks blank and busy on their wrists, 

and hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,

flounders in the mud. O Jesus, make it stop! 

1914 Albert-Paul Granier (France, killed 1917 at Verdun) from `les Coqs et les Vautours’
The Mortars
Juddering iron buckets clanging,

jerking deadweight chains clinking 

the thunderlumbering caravan 

labours on, along the baking roads and tracks, 

all thunderous crash and clash. 

The straining, weary horses 

ponderingly nod, 

as though to doubt 

 their onward slog will never end.... 

Wheels as thick as millstones 

mill the crunching road. 

And in towns and villages along the way 

thunderstruck groups watch 

the deadweight cortege of death grind past, 

the squat carriages, bolt-stubbled muscles bulging, 

and, mute, menacing, brutal, 

the black barrels, muzzled and bound like lunatics.

 (Translated by Ian Higgins)

If any question why we died, tell them that our fathers lied’. Rudyard Kipling. We need to be careful of the language of sacrifice pseudo Christian ceremonial to disguise the reality of war, and the uses of memory for present day political purposes. `Dulce et decorum est, pro Patria Mori’ (Horace).There is an `old lie’ that war is useful, inevitable and conducted by `heros’. Rather we need to ask ourselves what we can learn? `War is not inevitable , it is always a defeat for humanity’ St John Paul 2.

Oct 2017 Siegfried Sassoon ( England)

This poem was written in Craiglockhart hospital where soldiers were sent to recover from their shell shock, mental breakdown etc .as a result of the war Sassoon had been sent there when he refused to continue to fight `but we have stacks of men.... I am blind with tears, staring into the dark. ..Cheerio! I wish they had killed you in a decent show’ (June 1917)

 
 No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain 

have caused their stammering, disconnected talk 

of course they are longing to go out again.’ – 

These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk. 

They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed 

subjection to the ghosts of friends who died, - 

their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud 

of the glorious war that shattered all their pride...... 

men who went out to battle, grim and glad; 

children with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.

 
How do we remember? Is there room for repentance? `There is still room to negotiate, there is still room for peace. It is never too late to come to an understanding and to continue discussions. Say yes to life. War is itself an attack on human life since it brings in its wake suffering and death. The battle for peace is always a battle for life’ - St John Paul 2 .2003 just before the invasion of Iraq.
 

July 1927 Sassoon, `On Passing the new Menin Gate’. 

54,889 names, remembering the fallen, are inscribed there.
 

 Who will remember, passing through this Gate 

the unheroic Dead who fed the guns? 

Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate, - 

those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones? 

Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own. 

Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp; 

Paid, with a pile of peace complacent stone, 

 the armies that endured that sullen swamp.

Here was the world’s worse wound. And here with pride 

`Their name liveth for ever’ the Gateway claims. 

Was ever an immolation so belied 

As these intolerably nameless names? 

Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime 

Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.
 

Sassoon returned to the war not because he believed in it but as an act of solidarity with the men still in the trenches. Looking back many years later he would say ` I feel as strongly as ever about the madness of war. And the 1914 war seems to be more insane the further it recedes in history’.

`Sr Margaret Mary just came and opened the door through God’s mysterious providence’ . Towards the end of his life Sassoon became a Roman Catholic. For him it was a` homecoming’ which gave `unparalleled serenity’. (Sr Margaret Mary was a religious of the Assumption of the English province)

`In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases, the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue and peace is spoken’. Pope Francis 2013. For `He Himself will be peace’. (Micah 5 v 4)
 

 A flower has opened in my heart..... 

 What flower is this, what flower of spring, 

what simple secret thing? 

 It is the peace that shines apart, 

 the peace of daybreak skies that bring 

clear song and wild swift wing.

Heart’s miracle of inward light 

what powers unknown your seed have sown 

and your perfection freed?...... 

O flower within me wondrous white, 

I know you only as my need 

and my unsealed sight.
Sassoon