I heard a few bits on Remembrance Day on the radio this morning. We used to call it Armistice Day here in the US, now it’s Veteran’s Day and mostly for sales at the mall. It was originally to mark the Armistice signaling the end of WWI. Amidst the stupidity of war, this war was one of the stupidest. It took the lives of millions of young men for no reason other than the internecine squabble of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren. During the broadcast this morning, there was a bit of the tang of teary-eyedness, but only very weak attempts to draw any parallels with the current stupidity of war and the pointless loss of life.
I studied history at University, and World War I holds a special interest for me, I’m not sure why. My great uncle who I never knew fought in the Canadian Army, but that is the only connection I have. As far as literature, I had to memorize “In Flanders Field” in Elementary School.
There is just something about the horror and pointlessness of it all, and the enormous effect on the rest of the 20th century. The decimation of entire village populations of young men that gave us the ‘spinsters’ of 30’s and 4o’s movies — so unkindly portrayed and such a waste of intelligence and energy. (Except for Miss Marple.) The punitive settlements that led into World War II . The horrors of trench warfare that turned into newer means of perpetrating horrors. All these seem like something we should all want to remember, not just on November 11. We don’t seem to have learned anything so far.
If it interests you to read about WWI, my favorites:
Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain,
The Middle Parts of Fortune, by Frederic Manning
The Memoirs of George Sherston, by Siegfried Sasoon
(fictionalized memoir of Sassoon, the poet)
and a trilogy by Pat Barker Regeneration, the Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road.
On the knitting front, I found this oral history from the Anzac Day site.
“We began hearing a lot about ‘the war effort’ and people stopped saying the war would be over in six months, or even a year. Whenever I came home from school, the house was full of women clicking knitting needles and manipulating dark wool, and making huge quantities of socks, vests, mittens and mufflers, as well as sewing pyjamas and shirts. Mum ran Red Cross classes with first aid and bandage rolling … Mum, who was a leading light in the CWA (Country Women’s Association) as well as the Red Cross, spent more and more of her time on the war effort… Nora Pennington, the good little girl who had written the composition about Gallipoli, was the school’s champion sock knitter. At lunchtime and recess she sat with her ankles neatly crossed and her boots buttoned, turning the heels of the socks very prettily. She eventually won the district record for the number of socks, mufflers, mittens and balaclava helmets knitted by anybody under the age of thirteen; her father made sure that the news reached the front page of his paper, with the heading ‘LITTLE NORA DOES HER BIT’. The rest of us longed to grab her knitting, rip the stitches out and snarl the wool for her.