What would you like to be when you grow up? I should like to be battle sausage, to be ground up with mud, khaki, and barbed wire and fed to the trench rats. I should like to be flung into the blades by my betters who will never trouble to learn my name. I dream of clicking my heels, “yes, sir, I will”, and diving into the shredder. I should like to have my lungs fried living in acid, and my last breath choked by a vomit of blackened flesh. I should like to be eviscerated in an instant by a screaming hail of twists of metal, rent asunder to the song of cannon fanfare and machine gun rat-tat-tat, to be locked in the breech and sent hurtling at the anonymous foe, for his serrated bayonet to feel my heart’s embrace. A bloodied stump, a crimson smudge. A shriek of agony. A howl of squandered life. A ghost that haunts forever but never is recalled. I aspire to be the wound that breaks my father in half and murders my mother’s happiness, for my death to gestate in her womb. I long to be a sob permanently lodged in the throat of a sweetheart whom I shall never marry. A guilt that ruins her for any other. And finally, I should like to be swallowed up by the blood-caked earth and never buried. It’s the only worthy calling for a young man like me at this point in the development of human civilization. And you? Perhaps you had something else in mind for yourself. If so, you shouldn’t be here.
Why the Poppy?
A writer first made the connection between the poppy and battlefield deaths during the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century, remarking that fields that were barren before battle exploded with the blood-red flowers after the fighting ended.
During the tremendous bombardments of the First World War the chalk soils became rich in lime from rubble, allowing ‘popaver rhoeas’ to thrive.
When the war ended the lime was quickly absorbed, and the poppy began to disappear again.
Why the Poppy, Not
These people, [my father] said to me once, had no idea what the trenches of France were like, what it felt like to have your friends die beside you and then to confront their brothers and wives and lovers and parents. At home, I still have a box of photographs of his mates, all of them killed in 1918.
So like my Dad, I stopped wearing the poppy on the week before Remembrance Day, 11 November, when on the 11th hour of the 11 month of 1918, the armistice ended the war called Great. I didn’t feel I deserved to wear it and I didn’t think it represented my thoughts. The original idea came, of course, from the Toronto military surgeon and poet John McCrae and was inspired by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, killed on 3 May 1915. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.” But it’s a propaganda poem, urging readers to “take up the quarrel with the foe”. Bill Fisk eventually understood this and turned against it. He was right.
-Robert Fisk, Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?
Any Mother’s Son
The Last Long Mile
written by Charles Hart and Shannon Four, 1918
Having unexpectedly, but successfully killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sofia Duchess of Hohenburg with a single magic bullet, Gavrilo Princip is dragged from the scene, Sarajevo, 28 June 1914. WWI is now in motion, though no one knows it yet.
Drafted to fight the Hun in World War I, but sent instead to intervene against the Reds in the Russian Civil War, Canadian soldiers entertain themselves in the forests of far eastern Siberia. WWI has been over for many months, but here they sit, likely unclear as to why.
Source: Canada’s Siberian Expedition, Library and Archives Canada, RCMP Collection.