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The Roses of Picardy (John McCormack)

Think of the mud and blood-filled trenches of WWI. Think of the daily torment of lice and rats and other vermin too monstrous to contemplate. Think of the misery and gut-wrenching fear while awaiting the whistle signifying your turn to go over the top. Think of plunging into the hail of machine-gun fire, shell burst and row upon row of barbed wire. Think of the wholesale slaughter you have witnessed, the decimation of your “Pals Brigade” that signed up together and marched from your town with such confidence just months ago. Think of the desperate loneliness in the dark of night, separated from family and community, friends and beloved, beyond hope of soothing their thoughts and easing their minds. Think of the sky above shrouded with cloud and piercing rain, torn by burst of shot and shell, that descending flare that says “Freeze or you die”. Think of the food you eat, endless tins of bully beef and the water you drink tainted by the blood of the man who once stood next to you, now in pieces on the ground. Think of looking into the widened eyes of that grey-clad youngster lying trembling beneath the tip of your bayonet and think of what comes next. Think of what you’ve been told of this less-than-human figure in your sights only to discover on his body a photo of wife and child. Think of the “Christmas Truce” of 1914 and the knowledge that your own officers will shoot you if it should happen again. Think of endless, sleepless days and nights trapped in an ordeal that you once believed would be over before that Yuletide encounter in no-man’s-land. Think of the countless hours of boredom. Think of the isolation compounded by the reality of crushing unending claustrophobia.

Think of the unspeakable Horror.

The Hopelessness.

The Despair.

Now think of a way of escaping this hell on earth, if only

for a few brief moments and reaching out to those loved

ones in an act so divorced from this constant erosion of

soul and self. Think of the meaning of that connection in

a world gone mad, that gesture of reaching out to seek a

welcoming, loving hand. Thwarting the army censors to

offer reassurances to family and friends that there still

remained a chance that you might return unbroken in

body and mind. You reach in your pack for that small

card that you bought for a franc or a guilder amid the

ruins of the last village you marched through.

What if there was a way?


In Flanders Fields

They are touching reminders that those grainy, grey

photos and jerky film clips that we see were once men

doing unspeakable things, living unbearable lives,

enduring unthinkable horrors, yet somehow

surmounting those unimaginable odds, to remain


Think of them and remember.

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