Every November I try to find a different relation to learn about who fought in World War 1. This year I went to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site and learned about two distant relations–31-year old Clement and his brother, 21 year old Eric, who served with the South African forces. Before the war Clement worked as a mason and Eric worked in a shop. They both died of pneumonia in England.
Not we the conquered! Not to us the
Of them that flee, of them that basely yield;
Nor ours the shout of victory, the fame
Of them that vanquish in a stricken field.
That day of battle in the dusty heat
We lay and heard the bullets swish and sing
Like scythes amid the over-ripened wheat,
And we the harvest of their garnering.
Some yielded, No, not we! Not we, we swear
By these our wounds; this trench upon the hill
Where all the shell-strewn earth is seamed and bare.
Was ours to keep; and lo! we have it still.
We might have yielded, even we, but death
Came for our helper; like a sudden flood
The crashing darkness fell; our painful breath
We drew with gasps amid the choking blood.
The roar fell faint and farther off, and soon
Sank to a foolish humming in our ears,
Like crickets in the long, hot afternoon
Among the wheat fields of the olden years.
Before our eyes a boundless wall of red
Shot through by sudden streaks of jagged pain!
Then a slow-gathering darkness overhead
And rest came on us like a quiet rain.
Not we the conquered! Not to us the shame
Who hold our earthen ramparts, nor shall cease
To hold them ever; victors we, who came
In that fierce moment to our honoured peace.
Clement and Eric didn’t lose their lives holding ground and freedom for the Allies–they simply died of illness, far from home. Their simple story reminds me of what they did hold fast–the moral ground of standing for freedom, for family and for their countrymen.
This Remembrance Day I’m grateful for all who fought for our freedom and who continue to protect it today.