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Written By: - Date published: 11:21 am, November 11th, 2017 - 18 comments
Categories: war - Tags:

“The Green Fields Of France”
(originally by Eric Bogle)

Oh how do you do, young Willy McBride
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside
And rest for a while in the warm summer sun
I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done
And I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the great fallen in 1916
Well I hope you died quick
And I hope you died clean
Or Willy McBride, was is it slow and obscene

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined
And though you died back in 1916
To that loyal heart you’re forever nineteen
Or are you a stranger without even a name
Forever enshrined behind some old glass pane
In an old photograph torn, tattered, and stained
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

The sun shining down on these green fields of France
The warm wind blows gently and the red poppies dance
The trenches have vanished long under the plow
No gas, no barbed wire, no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard that’s still no mans land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man
And a whole generation were butchered and damned

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

And I can’t help but wonder oh Willy McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause
Did you really believe that this war would end wars
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing and dying it was all done in vain
Oh Willy McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

18 comments on “War. ”

  1. The decrypter 1

    Had 11am on the 11th on the 11th month on my mind this morning. I have visited the battle fields of Flanders in Belgium twice, I stayed in Ypres both times and once cycled to some of the memorials as no tours were available,–on a womans bike with a seat like a piece of wood ,and I was not up to it at all, wandering in agony all over the road ,in fact a group of super fit Belgium cycle racing types past me shouting horrible accedentio– or similar. The still have -or had regular collections for disposal of shells etc farmers dug up, and left in heaps on the side of the road. 2nd visit a huge mine bomb crater astounded me,. Lots of Kiwis killed there, Passchendael especially -war is so tragic.

  2. Whispering Kate 2

    I haven’t visited any France/Belgium war cemeteries but I did visit a UK War Cemetery to photograph a war grave of a friend of my late mother. This guy had died on a bombing air mission and was from NZ and the mother hadn’t ever seen his grave in her lifetime and wanted at least a visual of his resting place. This cemetery was in Oxford somewhere. I also visited Cannock Chase and saw the graves there.

    I visited Dachau Concentration camp as well and that was another whole other experience about man’s cruelty against man. The verses above remind me of another anti-war song “Waltzing Matilda”. The stupidity of the human race knows no bounds really, its beyond comprehension.

    • Molly 2.1

      The Pogues version of Eric Bogle’s “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”:


      When I was a young man I carried my pack
      And I lived the free life of a rover
      From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
      I waltzed my Matilda all over
      Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
      It’s time to stop rambling ’cause there’s work to be done
      So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
      And they sent me away to the war
      And the band played Waltzing Matilda
      As we sailed away from the quay
      And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
      We sailed off to Gallipoli

      How well I remember that terrible day
      How the blood stained the sand and the water
      And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
      We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
      Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
      He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
      And in five minutes flat he’d blown us all to hell
      Nearly blew us right back to Australia
      But the band played Waltzing Matilda
      As we stopped to bury our slain
      We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
      Then we started all over again

      Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
      In a mad world of blood, death and fire
      And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
      But around me the corpses piled higher
      Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
      And when I woke up in my hospital bed
      And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
      Never knew there were worse things than dying
      For no more I’ll go waltzing Matilda
      All around the green bush far and near
      For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
      No more waltzing Matilda for me

      So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
      And they shipped us back home to Australia
      The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
      Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
      And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
      I looked at the place where my legs used to be
      And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
      To grieve and to mourn and to pity
      And the band played Waltzing Matilda
      As they carried us down the gangway
      But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
      Then turned all their faces away

      And now every April I sit on my porch
      And I watch the parade pass before me
      And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
      Reliving old dreams of past glory
      And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
      The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
      And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”
      And I ask myself the same question
      And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
      And the old men answer to the call
      But year after year their numbers get fewer
      Some day no one will march there at all

      Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
      Who’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me
      And their ghosts may be heard as you pass the Billabong
      Who’ll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me?

    • Sanctuary 2.2

      I made a point last year in Europe to walk the ground of the infamous October 12 1917 disaster by the NZ division. I also spent some time looking around the Somme battlefield with a German friend, and at both places were we initially nonplussed trying to reconcile the geography and our guide maps until it dawned on us that advances that entailed very heavy casualties described in the history books, which when we consulted our maps we imagined to be to a medium sized wood or small hamlet in the middle distance, were actually to a tiny copse of trees a few hundred metres or less away or a ditch half way across a small paddock. We were shocked at short distances on one hand and density of troops employed on the other; and understanding the military problem of the Great War immediately became clear to us.

      The NZ memorial at Passchendaele is on the intersection of two nondescript roads and is, well, just a memorial on the side of the road. There is nothing to indicate the scale of the catastrophe the befell us barely a 1000m up the road. The distance from marshy bottom to the maximum distance gained on October 12 is just over two football fields. Compared to the atmospheric and impressive NZ memorial at Longueval on the Somme celebrating our now forgotten victory on the 15th September 1916 the Passchendaele memorial is quite disappointing. I guess Passchendaele was a defeat, and they didn’t want to celebrate one of those.

      Intellectually, you can read the books and look at the maps and understand what happened. But only when you are there, and look at the tiny distances gained on the first day of the Somme or on October 12 1917, and stand there re-reading the accounts of the slaughter of thousands in such confined spaces, does it really sink in. And then you get an inkling of the horror of it all, at the reason for the disgust of the survivors at the scale of the sacrifice for the gains, and just how complete the loss of trust in and the legitimacy of the autocratic ruling elites and undemocratic governments of 1914 must have been, and then you begin to understand why they were so swiftly swept away in the aftermath.

  3. AB 3

    I always remember Philip Larkin’s great poem ‘MCMXIV’, written 50 years later (1964). He opens with a view of the men waiting to enlist:
    “Those long uneven lines
    Standing as patiently
    As if they were stretched outside
    The Oval or Villa Park,
    The crowns of hats, the sun
    On moustached archaic faces
    Grinning as if it were all
    An August Bank Holiday lark”

  4. D'Esterre 4

    Whispering Kate: ” I also visited Cannock Chase and saw the graves there.”

    We, too, have visited Cannock Chase, some years ago; one of my father’s older brothers is buried there. Only a small section devoted to Commonwealth soldiers: mostly German war dead. We were impressed at how well the War Graves Commission maintains the cemetery.

    My grandmother never got the chance to go visit his grave, so various descendants have gone to visit over the years, as compensation of a sort.

    Moreover, he was the third of my father’s brothers to die in that war (4 went overseas), but the only one to have a grave. The other two were blown to bits at Gallipoli, almost certainly friendly fire; their names are on the memorial there, but no remains to bury.

    I was told that for some time after the end of the war, the family hoped that the missing brothers were POWs of the Turks. But eventually they realised that wasn’t the case. Even so, according to my mother, to the day she died in the early 1950s, my grandmother hoped that her boys would come home one day.

  5. swordfish 5

    Some remarkable aerial footage (1919) of WWI French battlefields


    And rare footage of black WWI servicemen receiving charity badges (1915)

  6. Sanctuary 6

    The 1914-18 war is still the most important historical event to have occurred since the French revolution – we are still living today with the political and social consequences on the great war, and we probably will for at least another century. Eventually, I think it will rate as the most important historical event since Columbus landed in the new and returned, thus demonstrating it was possible to cross the Atlantic and return reliably.

  7. Macro 7

    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 gas-shells dropping softly 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.

    Yes indeed as Horace says “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” /sarc

    I have an anthology “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, and this I think is one of the finest pieces to come out of the WW1.

    Or Siegfried Sassoon’s “Aftermath” which repeats the phrase “Have you forgotten yet?”

    My dad served in the tenches in WW1 in the last year of the war – before getting a “Blighty” from a German sniper (as he stood up to show the stretcher bearers the way to the First Aid post). He never talked about it much except to tell the story of one of his friends – a simple farm hand – who was sent out to repair the communication wire after it had been severed by shell fire. He never returned, but they later found his body sitting and shot through the head, and holding two pieces of fencing wire. The utter futility of this death never left him I’m sure.

    By the way my dad lived to be 95 and was in receipt of a British Army disability pension from 1919 until his death in Nov 1994. During the depression years it was a godsend.

    I was told he was one of the last to be in receipt of a WW1 disability pension when I telegraphed the UK pensions Office.

    • Macro 7.1

      Then there is this masterpiece:

      The German Guns

      by Pte S O Baldrick

      Boom, boom, boom, boom

      Boom, boom, boom

      Boom, boom, boom, boom

      Boom, boom, boom.

      • joe90 7.1.1

        Kipling, after his son was declared missing, presumed dead, at the Battle of Loos

        ‘My Boy Jack’


        “HAVE you news of my boy Jack? ”
        Not this tide.
        “When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
        Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

        “Has any one else had word of him?”
        Not this tide.
        For what is sunk will hardly swim,
        Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

        “Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
        None this tide,
        Nor any tide,
        Except he did not shame his kind—
        Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

        Then hold your head up all the more,
        This tide,
        And every tide;
        Because he was the son you bore,
        And gave to that wind blowing and that tide.

      • joe90 7.1.2

        Another favourite.

        The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

        So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
        And took the fire with him, and a knife.
        And as they sojourned both of them together,
        Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
        Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
        But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
        Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
        and builded parapets and trenches there,
        And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
        When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
        Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
        Neither do anything to him. Behold,
        A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
        Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

        But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
        And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

        Wilfred Owen

  8. corodale 8

    Pockets of hope return. Wild flowers in the fields and birds in song. Children feeding calves from buckets, and the little farm shop sells a mix of local and organic food.

    Earned the last seven years living on a farm in Europe called Trenches, between the fields named Hot-camp and Grave-yard. Cultural holocaust at the site, the state and the country level, leaving a lasting political ignorance, to this day. Back to Napoleonic, ww1, ww2, and now refugees from ww3. The summer skies are no longer blue at midday, but nobody talks about it, or the on-going war. They serve it out bureaucratically in the farm office, til minutes to midnight. Just the market-owned-media continue to beat the war mantra; be-guilty-for-holocaust. Laws designed to repress, in true fascist tradition.

    But pockets of resistance re-form, and small groups re-learn the sacred-art-of-civil-disobedience. Glimmers of hope for political change shine on. Could the light truly be rising. The sun still comes out in winter, and after rain, it’s sunshine again.

  9. joe90 9


    The first ceramic poppy was planted in July and the final one will be added on 11 November. By then, 888,246 poppies will fill the moat, each one representing a British or colonial death during the conflict.


  10. Peter 10

    I remember what my father said to me as we were standing in a war cemetery in Europe this was done to make money, and we joined up just like the first lot there is no such thing as a just war. He fort in the 2nd world war. My mother said he was missing in action twice.

  11. Philg 11

    It is time to March in Peace for Peace methinks. Media instep with Uncle Sam.

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