Days like this make me wonder - ever so navelgazingly - about being so fascinated by war and war stories and being a pacifist. At primary school we learned to sing Eric Bogle's song And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. I can picture us sitting in the little weatherboard house that was our school library and I first (I think) heard about Gallipoli, about Suvla Bay, and carried the image of damaged and disfigured men returning from the war to people in my mind, and how the crowd waiting for the returned soldiers didn't know how to react to it. Then in high school we watched Peter Weir's film Gallipoli. I read Rilla of Ingleside, Goodnight Mister Tom, A Little Love Song, The Diary of Anne Frank, A Farewell to Arms and all the war poets. I studied history at uni and took all the 20th century war classes. More recently I read Salinger's stories, The Montmaray Journals, The Pursuit of Love, The Quiet American. The trenches, the Blitz, Hiroshima, the concentration camps, the French resistance, silk stockings and Dig for Victory, the Kokoda trail, the Cold War, Vietnam, the first Gulf war, and the second. It's so ugly and tragic but I suppose there's a kind of macabre romance to it, which is food for all those stories I just can't put down, or put away.
Steven Herrick has written a post on visiting Gallipoli here.
Folksinger John McCutcheon sings Christmas in the Trenches, a beautiful song that tells the story of the 1914 Christmas armistice.
Here is my absolute favourite war poem:
Dulce et decorum est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
*I also saw The Avengers. It was amazing.