Their Only Crime: African American WWI Poet James Seamon Cotter, Jr. by Connie Ruzich
African American WWI soldier posing in Front of mockup of American flag. Courtesy Stars and Stripes.
“Although a citizen of the United States, the black man is regarded by the white American as an inferior being with whom relations of business or service only are possible. The black is constantly being censured for his want of intelligence and discretion, his lack of civic and professional conscience and for his tendency toward undue familiarity. The vices of the Negro are a constant menace to the American who has to repress them sternly.”
—“Secret Information Concerning Black American Troops,” sent August 7, 1918 from Colonel J.L.A. Linard with the A.E.F. to the French Army. Later published by W.E.B. DuBois in the Crisis, May 1919, pp. 16-18.
Portrait of James Seaman Cotter, Jr.
Over 350,000 black Americans were inducted into the American Army during the First World War, but units were strictly segregated by race, and black soldiers were assigned to hard labor and low status jobs (such as the grave digging, exhumation, and reburial work of the war). Few black units saw combat; an exception were the units who were assigned to the French military, where they fought with bravery and distinction. In the American Army of the First World War, racism was not only accepted, but often enforced.
James Seamon Cotter, Jr. has been described as a “forerunner of the African American cultural renaissance of the 1920s,”* and the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance notes that his poetry and one-act play On the Fields of France provide an important contribution to First World War literature. Cotter’s poem “O Little David, Play on Your Harp” uses a well-known African-American spiritual to frame the oppression and misery of war, genocide, and racism. You can listen here to a 1919 recording of the song performed by Lt. Noble Sissle and Lt. James Reese Europe of the 369th Harlem Hellfighters.
O, Little David, Play on Your Harp
O, Little David, play on your harp, That ivory harp with the golden strings And sing as you did in Jewry Land, Of the Prince of Peace and the God of Love And the coming Christ Immanuel.
O, Little David, play on your harp.
A seething world is gone stark mad;
And is drunk with the blood,
Gorged with the flesh,
Blinded with the ashes
Of her millions of dead.
From out it all and over all
Image below courtesy of Crisis, June 1918There stands, years old and fully grown,
A monster in the guise of man.
He is of war and not of war;
Born in peace,
Nurtured in arrogant pride and greed,
World-creature is he and native to no land.
And war itself is merciful
When measured by his deeds.
Beneath the Crescent
Lie a people maimed;
Their only sin—
That they worship God.
On Russia’s steppes
Is a race in tears;
Their one offense—
That they would be themselves.
On Flanders’ plains
Is a nation raped;
A bleeding gift
Of “Kultur’s” conquering creed.
And in every land
Are black folk scourged;
Their only crime—
That they dare be men.
O, Little David, play on your harp, That ivory harp with the golden strings And psalm anew your songs of Peace, Of the soothing calm of a Brotherly Love, And the saving grace of a Mighty God. O, Little David, play on your harp.
—Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr.
The celebratory refrain of the Negro spiritual contrasts sharply with a “seething world” that has “gone stark mad.”** Spiraling out of control, the world at war is drunk on blood, sated by the decaying bodies of the dead, and blinded by the ashes of destruction.
Yet bigger than the war and more terrible than even its slaughter, a monster “of war and not of war” towers over all. This fiend, born in peace, raised by pride, and fed by greed, is a citizen of every nation, and he wears a human disguise. In the Ottoman Empire (“beneath the Crescent”), he has directed the massacre of the Armenians; in Russia’s pogroms; he has murdered thousands of Jews; and he has brutally commanded German atrocities in occupied Belgium. Cotter’s poem unites these victims of deadly prejudice with blacks who are whipped and beaten “in every land”; their only crime is daring to believe themselves fully human.
Many black Americans hoped the war that was to “make the world safe for democracy” would also address the racism that was prevalent in America. In “O Little David,” Cotter challenges his audience to acknowledge that the enemy within, the “monster in the guise of man,” is as terrible a foe as any to be encountered on the battlefields of Europe. ***
*James Robert Payne, “Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr., The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Oxford, 2001, p. 90.
**The subject of the song, however, is relevant to the poem’s message. David’s harp playing was commanded by King Saul, who employed the boy to soothe his mad rages (I Samuel 16), and the young shepherd shocked Israel’s army with his courage and skill in fighting the colossal Goliath (I Samuel 17).
*** Posters not credited appear to exist in public domain.
Connie Ruzich is a University Professor of English at Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has published on aspects of language, culture, and identity, and has lived and taught in the U.S., Italy, and the United Kingdom. Ruzich was a 2014-2015 Fulbright Scholar at the University of Exeter, where she researched the use of poetry in British centenary commemorations of the First World War. Her blog, Behind Their Lines, shares lesser-known poetry of the First World War, providing discussion and research on international lost voices, poems written by those on the home front, and poetry that has been neglected in modern anthologies. Her research can also be followed through her twitter feed (@wherrypilgrim).
Theater of War: With over 600 performances and still counting, Theater of War represents one of the largest and most ambitious projects ever brokered between artists and the Department of Defense. This public health project uses dramatic readings of seminal ancient Greek plays and community conversations to confront topics such as combat-related psychological injury for U.S. Military Veterans. Using theater to build a common vocabulary for openly discussing the impact of these issues, events are designed to generate compassion, empathy, and understanding between diverse audiences. All events are free to the public and feature leading film, theater, and television actors. Bryan Doerries is a Brooklyn-based writer, translator, and director is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Theater of War Productions. This year, he was named Public Artist in Residence (PAIR) a joint appointment with the New York City Department of Veterans’ Services and Department of Cultural Affairs. During this two-year residency, he will bring more than 60 Theater of War Productions projects to diverse communities across all five boroughs.
The WWrite Blog was lucky enough to spend some time talking to Bryan Doerries about the ways in which Theater of War might enlighten us about the experience of WWI soldiers and military personnel throughout the Centennial year.
Elizabeth Marvel reads Ajax at Women in Military Service for America Memorial, June 2011. Photo credit Theater of WarWWrite: What was it that influenced to take up the Theater of War project? Did you know anyone serving in the military growing up? Family or friends?
Bryan Doerries: No. I didn’t know anyone on active duty certainly. I didn’t really know much about military culture. I had grown up in Hampton Roads, Virginia and although I was surrounded by military culture, I grew up in this rarified academic bubble and was mostly untouched during the Cold War. This was despite the massive growth that took place in the area as it was one of the epicenters of military activity in the country. Yet I felt kind of distant from it. In principle, I was in support of veterans but ideologically against military conflicts. When the invasion of Iraq was imminent, I marched in the streets against it in New York City and it felt kind of ineffectual, like I wasn’t doing much.
A few years later, I started to see the first wave of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with catastrophic injuries that would have killed any other veteran in any other conflict prior. And now it’s 40-50,000 with multiple amputations, and moderate to penetrating brain injuries, a whole subclass of people returning to our shores who will never be fully well and will be stranded on islands of chronic illness for the rest of their lives. I had read about their stories and it was the Walter Reed scandal in 2007, when our nation’s flagship military hospital was revealed to be substandard on so many levels, my liberal sanctimony sort of evaporated and I was able to see with some clarity that if we didn’t act quickly, we could perpetuate the same kind cruelty that we perpetuated against the Vietnam generation by, in effect, criminalizing military service members for carrying out our foreign policy.
That’s when I got the inspiration for Theater of War. All I had was a hunch. Greek tragedy was my background and I’d been directing my own translations of Greek plays for some time. In the years leading up to the Walter Reed scandal (2004-2007), I’d been working on bringing my translations of plays to hospitals. From those medical audiences, I’d learned that people who had never heard of the ancient Greek plays that I translated could teach me more than I could teach them. That led me on this sort of odyssey to bring Greek plays to audiences for whom the words of the plays could actually have life and death significance.
So, when the Walter Reed scandal broke, I had already been doing this work in hospitals with this playPhiloctetes, which is about a combat veteran who has been abandoned on an island for 9 years by his own friends, by the army, and by his superior officers due to an illness he contracted during the Trojan War. For 9 years, he’s left there, dehumanized, and never hears his own language. The other Greeks hear through an oracle that they must go back and get him and his weapon to win the war. It takes place during the 9th year of the Trojan War, somewhere around the 13th or 12th century BC. The play is performed in the 5th century BC, in 406 BC, only a few years before the end of the Peloponnesian War and the demise of Greek hegemony and democracy. It was written by Sophocles when he was 87 and no stranger to the islands of chronic illness. So, I had this hunch that if I could take this play Philoctetes, which seemed to describe the loneliness, isolation, betrayal and the physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds of Walter Reed, something powerful would happen. That was the impulse behind it all.
Theater of War Performance at Guantanamo Bay March 2011. Photo credit by Theater of War.And, of course, it was a very naïve impulse. It took about a year and a half of rejection. At that point, I was about to give up. I had been learning to speak to the military and engaging with their culture. I learned that they still study Thucydides and Herodotus at military colleges and academies, which means there’s still some reference to the Greeks. I don’t think many of the brass knew at the time that Sophocles was a general as well. Eventually I found my way in through a Navy psychiatrist, CAPT William P. Nash, who was embedded with the Marines during the Battle of Fallujah. He had made the Sophocles connection himself, partially by way of Jonathan Shay’s Achilles in Vietnamand also on his own. This psychiatrist said in his New York Times interview in 2008 that he began all discussions with the Marines by telling the ancient story Ajax, a play by Sophocles. And when I read this, I jumped on the phone and email and eventually got him 24 hours later. I then got my first audience of Marines— all with this formless hunch that this might work but with no verifiable proof this was anything other than a crazy idea.
So, fast forward 8 months later to August 2008. We get the audience of 400 Marines and their spouses in there. We scheduled a 45-minutes discussion after the performance of Ajax and Philoctetes. The discussion lasted 3 ½ hours and had to be cut off at midnight. People were standing up and saying things they had never said before in public and certainly not front of their friends in private. Almost everything said was preceded by a quote from the play as if the people in the audience had known the play their entire lives.
It dawned on me as I listened that these Marines do know the plays because these plays are their stories. And while the technology of how we communicate has vastly changed over the last 150 years, there are certain aspects of being human and what it means to experience trauma, isolation, and betrayal that haven’t changed and probably won’t ever change. That’s when everything came together. Soon thereafter we brokered the most ambitious partnership between the Department of Defense and artists. We did 100 performances in a single year. Just this last week we celebrated our 404th performance that one project. And, we have at least 20 more projects that have grown out of that.
WWrite: You said that ancient Greek theater was part of the community and that it was part of everyday life. People in ancient Greece went to the theater to learn about things and to have catharsis. It seems that you’ve taken on the idea of the practice as well as the texts you’ve translated.
I know that WWI soldiers—not all, but quite a few—had a classical education that consisted in learning ancient Greek and Latin. Wouldn’t those soldiers have been able to identify more easily with the kinds of plays you’re doing? Today many soldiers or military personnel who are leaving and coming back have had education, but most likely haven’t had an education based in ancient Greek and Latin. You could have chosen a contemporary play, any play. Options might have been Edward Albee or Marguerite Duras. The ancient Greek plays ask audiences to cross many historical and literary bridges. Why did you chose them and not others?
Etching of theatre audience 19th century. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London.Bryan Doerries: I don’t see education as a fast track to understanding these plays. In fact, I almost see it as an impediment. Would that I had two lives to live, I would live the first one to the extreme and I would spend the second one studying the ancients. As it turns out, a prerequisite for understanding antiquity is suffering and experiences like betrayal, loss, survivor’s guilt, and moral distress—anything that anyone who has been to war knows intrinsically. Those are the prerequisites. It’s unfortunate, and Nietzsche pointed this out in the 19th century, that 15-21-year olds are exposed to the ancient Greeks at precisely the moment when they don’t have the prerequisite life understanding or experience to begin to understand them.
I studied ancient Greek, but every time I perform in front of Marine grunts who have never heard of Sophocles, they elucidate and repeatedly confirm that the prerequisite for understanding a Greek play is losing your best friend or feeling that you’ve been betrayed by your commanding officers or understanding the stakes of life and death. That’s what every word of the play radiates with contemporary significance. I think those who encounter these plays in an academic setting often are unable to appreciated them in the direct way that some of these young men and women in the military can.
I do think that around the time of WWI, the early 20th century theater was still a primary medium of communication that film had not taken over. Photography was still nascent and some of the subscription-based opera houses in Europe still had half a million subscribers. It was a different time, but early 20th century theater does share commonality with the culture of theater that existed in the ancient world. It represented the largest audience in the modern world. But, in the ancient world, in the 5th century at the theater of Dionysus at the City Dionysia Festival each spring, one-third of the Athenian citizen population was sitting in that theater. The courts emptied. There was no political activity. If you didn’t have money to attend, your ticket would be subsidized. It was not just a civic act to attend theater, but it was a religious act. The actual Festival of Dionysus began with a ritual sacrifice of animals in reverence for the god Dionysus, who was the god of boundary disillusion, the god of ecstasy, the god of transcending that which differentiates you from me, the god who can break down those barriers. I think that’s what theater does, what it was designed—as a technology—to do.
Sometimes, I think, in the contemporary world, the novelty of theater as a form is like writing someone a letter. You can write someone now a banal letter, but it’s such an unprecedented event to receive a one today that it could seem like it’s of tremendous significance. The bar is so low in terms of the lack of depth to human communication today. Theater is the answer to Twitter, but we’ll never be able to scale theater to meet the need.
It turns out that Greek tragedy is as sophisticated technologically as an iPhone. When it’s plugged into the right audience, it has this psychotropic boundary dissolving, hierarchy dissolving property. Greek tragedy works on us at a truly visceral level, as visceral as the sacrifice that preceded the performance itself at the Festival of Dionysia. And, if Theater of War is doing that job, we’re bypassing the forebrain and going straight to the amygdala of the audience members who are listening. I know that something biochemical is occurring, which will result in 45 minutes to an hour of true boundary loosening.
We know it’s working when the lowest ranking person stands and speaks in front of the highest ranking. That’s no small thing.
The other answer to your question about my choice of Greek plays has to do with utility. Ancient texts help contemporary audiences make connections without putting them in a defensive position. So, you can take the warrior archetype of Ajax, and it will connect on many levels, but it will also feel strange and dissonant, as well. In that dissonance, we create safety and people can either respond to the play by talking about the characters or they can step outside the archetype itself and talk about themselves. It’s their choice. That’s the utility. The Greeks were doing that too. Most of the plays are about the Trojan War, which is as distant from the 5th century Athenians as they are to us.
Shot at Dawn Memorial near Staffordshire (UK) commemorating the 306 British soldiers executed for cowardice during WWI. They were pardoned in 2006. Photo courtesy The Chase Project
Theater at the Salonika Front during WWI. Credit International Encyclopedia of the First World War.WWrite: I wonder if a soldier returning from World War I going to theater would be expecting to have that kind of visceral experience. And if this soldier was expecting it or desiring it, they may have felt disappointed by the conventions. They certainly wouldn’t stand up and talk at the end.
You said that you try to reach the audience not just on an emotional level, but on a biochemical level. World War I was the first war that gave called shell shock public recognition. Shell shock has evolved today into the many characteristics and forms of PTSD. We have medical proof that PTSD is part chemical.National Geographicrecently ran an article showing the physiological evidence of changes on the brain due to trauma causing PTSD symptoms. It was only in 2006 when Great Britain pardoned 306 WWI soldiers who were executed for cowardice. Now we know it was something much more complicated than cowardice and it was certainly not their fault. How do you take this physiological-neurological phenomenon into account when you’re performing and discussing?
Bryan Doerries: Shell shock manifested itself as psychological or mental illness during WWI and in WWII. These soldiers were “cured” by execution or lobotomy, which meant taking away the very faculty of speech itself. We find other ways to silence those who have experienced trauma today, but the impulse to stop survivors from telling their stories still runs strong in our culture today. What many of those who have experienced trauma need is the ability to give voice to their experiences, to speak the unspeakable, and—through narrative—to make sense of what happened to them. In a way, that’s what Greek tragedy was designed to do. And so, it seems fitting that, as a species, we have finally reached a place where we can hear what tragedy has to offer us.
WWrite: WWI has been largely forgotten. If you go onto the Washington Mall in D.C., the heart of our country, you see several war monuments on display, but you really have to look hard to find the WWI memorial. It’s small and a bit shabby. In the heart of the country, this war’s place seems insignificant. And, as the Centennial Commission’s work shown, it is anything but insignificant. Thankfully, a new memorial will be constructed. I live in France. The monuments to fallen American soldiers from WWI, like Chateau Thierry, are huge, well-kept, beautiful, and often bigger than French monuments. We lost a tiny fraction of the soldiers France did. The memory of the war is well-kept abroad but not in the U.S. Do you think that techniques you use in Theater of War could be used to teach us about a history of a war?
Bryan Doerries: Literary texts and myths are how we encode our histories and pass them down from generation to generation. In the Greek texts, you’re kind of at the border of an oral tradition moving to a written tradition. What I like about plays is that they are not, from my perspective, simily literary texts. They are blueprints for a felt, emotional experience and require a group of people to get it off the page. If you’re only looking at a play on the page, you’re missing the meaning. I think the Homeric epics are intergenerational archives of accrued knowledge passed from one generation of veterans down to the next. That’s how I view the poems of Wilfred Owen in the voices of veterans I hear from today. They are still quoting Owen. Wherever we fall in the ideological spectrum, I think that the cauldron of war in the 5th century BC is something we’ve missed as the catalyst for the paradigm shift in the consciousness of the ancient Greeks. 5th century BC architecture and philosophy that we study has, unfortunately, endless wars to thank for jumpstarting the insights we praise today.
WWrite: I have a similar view about the role of WWI in artistic and literary movements of the early 20th century like Modernism, Surrealism, and Dada. WWI was the catalyst for the huge shift in consciousness that produced some of the masterpieces of these movements. But when we learn about them in school, WWI is presented as a minor blip, a small influence. In reality, for me, it was a war that exploded consciousness at this time period and we can’t think about any literary work without placing WWI at the center of it seriously.
Theater of War Performance at the USS Washington, 2016. Courtesy of Under the Radar.Bryan Doerries: I think World War I obliterated the crust of the 19th century and how we perceived the world. These artistic currents were already happening before the war, but the war acted as an accelerant that made it impossible to return to those previous approaches. Studying war seriously helps us see what’s illusory about constructing our narratives of reality. Whether we see it or not, culture encodes these war histories. To come to what we’re doing in Theater of War, the plays we’re performing have the war encoded in their DNA. I’m not sure the Trojan War, as we think of it, ever happened, but there was war all the same—prehistoric conflicts, pre-writings, pre-civilizations, which passed down their intergenerational accrued knowledge and understanding of the human condition through myths We’re still connecting to them now. You can put the plays of Sophocles in front of an audience of grunt Marines who have no more than a high school education and they’re able to deliver profound insights. Their responses indicate to me that these deep histories and codes written into this Greek culture just needs the right translator to be heard. And the translator isn’t me. The translator is the audience with skin in the game.
WWrite: What was the most memorable experience in a performance of Theater of War?
Bryan Doerries: I could say so many things about the Theater of War and my experiences. I think that the process has been one of me humbled. All my privileges and presumptions have been checked – simple things like who’s awake and who’s asleep. Whose stories are these and who has the proprietary right to speak about them. Is it the rarefied few of us who have had a few years of college or undergraduate training? Who cares? What does that provide us?
I’ve had moments in which someone has upended my understanding of what tragedy is, who taught me more than I ever learned in a class or in a book. One of these I talk about in my book, The Theater of War. It came early on when we were performing in Germany on a U.S. artillery base. I asked the audience of mostly junior enlisted soldiers who had been on deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan: “Why do you think Sophocles wrote this play, Ajax? What was he trying to say? A young man shot up and said: “I think Sophocles wrote this play to boost morale.” I interrogated him and asked: “What would be so morale boosting about a play about a great warrior coming unraveled after losing his best friend and being betrayed by his command?” The man shot back before I could finish my question: “Because it’s the truth. Because we’re all sitting shoulder to shoulder acknowledging it. It’s not being whitewashed.”
And that was a seminal moment in my understanding of what tragedy is. On the one hand, if you look at Greek tragedy simply as a literary artifact, you see the characters in the final moments of the play, crushed by their ignorance usually milliseconds before it’s too late, working against forces far beyond their comprehension The plays are fatalistic, pessimistic, and—on the surface—should probably send us all home to wallow in our lack of agency. But for audiences, watching characters be crushed by things outside their control provokes a counter-intuitive reaction. In fact, rather than inspiring a sense of fatalism or sending people home to cry about our lack of agency in a world where we barely apprehend the forces that work upon us, the plays seem to inspire connection and camaraderie, esprit de corps, relief and joy.
From that moment on, I learned that tragedy is a pretext to bring us together as a community to face the darkest aspects of our humanity as a group. Instead of the isolation of our barracks or our car or our closet, we do it in the company of other people who are all feeling some level of moral distress in the face of human suffering. It can bring about transformation and that’s scary for people to see who haven’t experienced it before because it’s counter intuitive. But we’re 650 performances in so if it didn’t work….
Death of Ajax by Giuseppe Niccolò Vicentino, Italian (active 1520 - 1550) After Polidoro da Caravaggio, Italian (Caravaggio, near Bergamo, Italy c. 1499 - 1543 Messina, Italy). Credit Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum.
WWrite: You’re saying that understanding suffering in a group can be edifying?
Bryan Doerries: Exactly. If our values are to never leave someone behind, to live a decent life, to fight for people and things you believe in, the plays seem to challege us to imagine how hard it is to live up to those values when confronted with human suffering, corrupt leaders, politics, and all the gray choices we must make in war and life. The plays acknowlege that often, as humans, we will be haunted for the rest of our lives by our decisions, no matter what we decide. The plays create a place where we can validate our own moral distress at living in such a world, a world of unimaginable cruelty and suffering. I learned more from that young man of 18 or 19 about tragedy than I had learned in any of my training.
Also, it helps me to practice a kind of humility that is required for our work—to never presume to know who is in the room or what they’ve experienced and to approach an audience with a true reverence for the experiential intelligence in each room. That doesn’t happen in our cultural spaces today. The flow of culture in our society is one-way. Artists think they are the ones bestowing a gift upon the audiences. But what if the audience is bestowing the gift upon us? That’s the question of the center of our work. The Greeks taught us that.
For a video introduction to Theater of War, please see video below.
Theater of War Trailer
Published on Jan 24, 2012
Description of Theater of War Project
Bryan Doerriesis a Brooklyn-based writer, director, and translator, who currently serves as Artistic Director of Theater of War Productions. A self-described evangelist for classical literature and its relevance to our lives today, Doerries uses age-old approaches to help individuals and communities heal from trauma and loss.
During his tenure at Theater of War Productions, the company has presented diverse projects across the country and internationally. Theater of War Productions uses dramatic readings of seminal plays and community conversations to confront topics such as combat-related psychological injury, end-of-life care, police and community relations, prison reform, gun violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and substance abuse and addiction.
Doerries is a proud graduate of Kenyon College and serves as a board member of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and Friends of the Young Writers Workshop. Among his awards, Doerries has received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Kenyon College, and in March 2017, he was named Public Artist in Residence (PAIR) for the City of New York, a joint appointment with the New York City Department of Veterans’ Services and Department of Cultural Affairs. During this two-year residency, he will bring more than 60 Theater of War Productions projects to diverse communities across all five boroughs.
Champagne, "champagne," and World War I by Marsha Dubrow
"On this land of Champagne where we drink the happiness, we lost so many families to war."
-- Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, President of Champagne Taittinger.
The caption to the original reads "Very much up." Cartoon by Bernard Partridge depicting the French and Americans hitting back at the Germans in the Champagne counter offensive in July 1918. Foch was the French commander-in-chief of the Allied armies, as the name on the bottle label indicates. The soldier hit is German. Copyright Punch Limited.
During the second year of World War I, the French National Assembly voted to send champagne, the bubbly, celebratory drink, as a morale booster to troops and military hospitals on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, Champagne, the French region and source of the world's most elegant wine symbolizing celebration and peace, was amassing severe wounds as a key geographical strategic point on the front lines of WWI's Western Front.
During this centennial year of the United States’ 1917 entrance into the "Great War," I decided, as a writer and champagne lover, that a great way to learn more about this relatively forgotten war and about the surprising role of champagne in it, was to travel through the Western Front’s vast battlefields, majestic monuments, and deep champagne caves, all about an hour from Paris by TGV high-speed (about 200 mph) train.
Champagne WWI Poets
I had guides during my trip who showed me the sights, but I had other touring companions who opened another window on the region and the war: poets.
My timing was appropriate to let their voices resonate as I traveled, around Memorial Day.
"Ay, it is fitting on this holiday,/ Commemorative of our soldier dead,..." I heard American poet Alan Seeger (uncle of folksinger/songwriter Pete Seeger) saying in his poem "Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France," which he wrote for a May 30, 1916 ceremony honoring what was then known as Decoration Day, renamed Memorial Day after WWI.
Despite the destruction in Champagne, Seeger (photo left) sensed the underlying magnificence of the region and the wine. While serving in the French Foreign Legion in WWI, he wrote a poem entitled, "Champagne 1914-1915," in which he says that the exquisite wine "concentrates/ The sunshine and the beauty of the world."
Seeger dedicated this poem "...To those whose blood, in pious duty shed,/ Hallows the soil where that same wine had birth."
On July 4, 1916, Seeger’s own blood was shed there at age 28, shortly after writing his prophetic poem, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death." Posthumously, Seeger was awarded France's highest honor, the Croix de Guerre (War Cross), plus the Medaille Militaire (Military Medal).
I learned that, like Seeger, so many others have had their rendezvous with death on that soil in northern France. It has been a battlefield not only for World War I and World War II, but also throughout history -- for The Goths, Attila the Hun, the Romans, the Hundred Years' War, Thirty Years' War, Napoleonic wars, among many others, according to Champagne: The Wine, the Land and the People by Patrick Forbes.
It was hard for me to imagine that the region could possibly have suffered more than it did during WWI. As I traveled around the Western Front in France, my overwhelming reaction, upon seeing thousands upon thousands of crosses and a few Jewish Stars of David in WWI cemeteries, was -- what a waste of human lives.
At the same time, I was struck by the peacefulness and serenity of its meadows, farmlands, and forests one century after the devastation of artillery shells, fires, poison gas, and trenches had left it looking apocalyptic.
"[T]he earth itself is corpselike" with "fields of sterility," French writer and WWI combatant Henri Barbusse described it in Under Fire (Le Feu).
When I commented about such lush forests to our travel guide Guillaume Moizan, he explained, "One war reparation was Austria had to give pine seeds to France to rebuild destroyed forests."
Other countries and organizations also assisted. Women volunteers with the American Red Cross helped re-seed 4,000 acres and plant 3,000 fruit trees in northern France, according to the book Anne Morgan: Photography, Philanthropy & Advocacyby Alan Govenar and Mary Niles Maack.
Still, many of the reforested battlefields remain pockmarked with craters and scarred with trenches. The contrast reminded me of the difference between Joyce Kilmer's well-known, bucolic work, "Trees": "I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree," compared to his far darker WWI poem "Rouge Bouquet" (Kilmer, photo right):
In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet
There is a new-made grave to-day...
There is on earth no worthier grave
To hold the bodies of the brave
Than this place of pain and pride
Where they nobly fought and nobly died.
"Rouge Bouquet" was published two weeks after a German sniper's bullet killed 31-year-old U.S. Army Sergeant Kilmer on July 30, 1918. One of the few U.S. WWI fighters to be awarded France's Croix de Guerre, Kilmer is buried at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in Seringes-et-Nesles, near where he was shot. The New Jersey-born poet is among more than 6,000 "doughboys" buried at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery.
The Chateau Thierry Memorial The rosebush-lined Oise-Aisne burial site is one of 18 WWI American cemeteries, memorials, and monuments in France that are maintained exquisitely by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). A total 30,974 American military dead are buried in ABMC cemeteries in other WWI-affected countries. The Oise-Aisne American Cemetery is just north of another ABMC site, the Château-Thierry Monument honoring the battle of Château-Thierry, an important part of military lore. The U.S. Third Division earned the name "Rock of the Marne" for its June 1918 defense of bridgeheads over the strategically crucial Marne River there.
The stunning art deco Château-Thierry Monument, by French-American architect Paul Philippe Cret, commemorates U.S. and French troops in the pivotal Second Battle of the Marne, plus the nearby major Oise-Aisne offensive and Aisne-Marne offensive. Two heroic elongated human figures, representing U.S. and France, hold hands on the memorial's west façade.
The grand sweeping terrace overlooks the Marne River Valley and its rich champagne vineyards, as well as the town of Château-Thierry, birthplace of 17th century poet and fable writer Jean de La Fontaine, and home of Champagne Pannier. I wondered what war or other destruction La Fontaine might have witnessed here in his era.
Champagne: Battlefield and Haven
As a writer myself, I was inspired by the fascinating contradictions of Champagne’s WWI history. I was especially intrigued to learn that the caves or cellars (crayères) of Champagne Pannier and many other fine brands in nearby Reims and Épernay sheltered not only millions of bottles of the wine, but also civilians during WWI. A haven existed below the battles raging above.
So, with guides, I explored the ancient chalk limestone cellars of Champagne Pannier and those of Champagne Taittinger in Reims.
Champagne cave drawing from 1914. A flower inside a heart. "RF" means French Republic. "Guerre M" means World War I. Photo courtesy of TaittingerChampagne Pannier's 12th-century limestone caves were a safe harbor for residents throughout much of the area's four-year German occupation, and especially during the 41-day Battle of Château-Thierry. No wonder, because the cellars are more than 98 feet deep.
One of the most interesting sights along the 1.3 mile-long-caves is a 14th-century carving of an archer, uncovered during an archaeological study in 2000. The archer was adopted as its logo in 2002 because an archer, like fine champagne, must have elegance, precision, and balance, the Pannier guide explained.
Reims Cathedral, photography by Carmen Moya The Great War (1914-1918) devastated the entire Champagne area of northern France. That region alone lost more than half its population, and an estimated 40 percent of its vineyards, according to the Kladstrups and other sources.
The destruction was symbolized by the near-razing of Reims, the former regional capital of Champagne, and its magnificent Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral, eighty-to-ninety-percent destroyed. Twenty-five French kings had been crowned at this Gothic cathedral dating back to 1212. The Rockefeller family funded much of the Reims Cathedral's reconstruction, and now it is a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Late in the war, "the entire champagne industry was forced to move its operations into the crayères," the Kladstrups noted. "Virtually all of the champagne firms suffered serious damage" from the Germans' "Big Bertha," a cannon that propelled artillery shells as far as 75 miles.
The 60-feet-deep, 2.5-mile-long caves that now belong to Champagne Taittinger date from the 4th century, when Gallo-Roman slaves cut slabs of limestone to build the city of Durocortorum (now Reims). One of the most fascinating parts of the Taittinger caves is the ruins of the 13th-century Saint Nicaise Abbey, destroyed during the French Revolution.
During WWI, hundreds of Reims' citizens sheltered in the caves -- as did French and German troops, when they occupied the city. These cellars, like others, were used also as a hospital for French soldiers, a school, and even a playground. Hospital cots, archaic medical equipment, and some uniforms remain in the Taittinger cellars.
WWI Champagne Cave carving. Photo Courtesy of Taittinger.I was so moved to see remnants of these rudimentary medical items that helped save lives in these dark, dank caves. And the carvings of soldiers brought to life their fear, despair, and also hope.
Graffiti in French and in German is carved into the walls of chalk, a soft, fine-textured type of limestone. The graffiti ranges from sad to sunny, and from artful to primitive. The most poignant was in French, translating to "I am on the front lines since the first day of war." Another is a three-leaf clover beneath a sunburst. Some depict the spiked German helmets. One shows a woman's dreamy face within a heart shape.
During the tours and tastings, I continued to learn how, miraculously, La Champagne region and le champagne wine have managed to survive and thrive throughout war and peace. After each tour in the caves, our group toasted to peace and freedom with glasses of the delicious drink.
As I raised my glass, I had a fantasy like the founder of the great Taittinger champagne house, Pierre Taittinger, had when he was a World War I cavalry officer headquartered nearby. He had promised himself that he would own a champagne house one day if he survived the war. Taittinger certainly fulfilled his promise. But alas, my dream of owning a champagne house must remain an evanescent, effervescent-inspired fantasy.
Inside the Champagne Caves. Photo courtesy of Louis Teran.In nearby Épernay, the heroic deeds of Maurice Pol-Roger, head of Pol Roger Champagne and the city's mayor, are still celebrated today. He was one of the few officials who did not flee when Germans invaded Épernay on September 4, 1914. "I will stay no matter what happens, to reassure and to comfort those who wish to leave but cannot. And I will do all that is humanly possible to defend them," Pol-Roger said, according to the book Pol Roger by Cynthia Parzych and John Turner.
I felt thankful for Mayor Pol-Roger’s persistence because it's my favorite brand, probably because it was famously Winston Churchill's preferred brand. The best-known, most loyal customer of Pol Roger Champagne was the formidable former British Prime Minister.
I learned that Churchill’s career in World War I was almost as disastrous as his World War II leadership was victorious. In 1915, as First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill helped plan the failed Dardanelles naval campaign, and also the military landings on Gallipoli, both of which incurred heavy losses. Churchill was demoted and resigned from government. He became an army officer and served on the Western Front until early 1916, according to Britain's Imperial War Museum’s website.
Churchill is widely quoted as crediting champagne for his rebound during WWII. When drinking champagne, "The nerves are braced, the imagination is equally stirred; the wits become more nimble," he said. The prime minister even spurred on the troops by saying, "Remember, gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's champagne."
So it’s no wonder Churchill often quoted Napoleon, "'I cannot live without champagne. In victory I deserve it, and in defeat I need it.'"
Marsha Dubrow earned an M.F.A. in Writing and Literature at Bennington College, which published her chapbook, Single Blessedness. Her work has appeared in literary journals, anthologies, and major magazines. Dubrow is a Contributor to U.S. News & World Report, MSN, DCist, among others. She is a volunteer editor for the National Archives and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and was a Correspondent for Life and Reuters.
Using Congressional Collections to Engage with WWI: Archive Fellow for Armenian Advocacy at KU, Lawrence
By Audrey Coleman, Assistant Director/Senior Archivist, Dole Institute of Politics
Deported Armenians marching through the Syrian Desert to concentration camps during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916
Archival Fellow for Armenian Advocacy Attention! This application deadline is next Monday, September 4, 2017! It is hard to believe that, as barbarous battles raged on the Western and Eastern Fronts, another, different human atrocity was committed by Ottoman authorities and Young Turks around the geographical region of modern-day Turkey: the Armenian Genocide. To understand the Armenian Genocide and its place in WWI better, The Robert and Elizabeth Dole Archive & Special Collections at the Dole Institute of Politics*, University of Kansas in Lawrence, is pleased to announce a special fellowship opportunity for the 2017-2018 programming year: the Archival Fellow for Armenian Advocacy.
The Doles visit Armenia, 1989Gravely wounded in the mountains of Italy in the final weeks of WWII, Bob Dole endured several years of intense rehabilitation. He credits his physical and mental recovery largely to Dr. Hampar Kelikian, an Armenian surgeon who lost family members to the Armenian Genocide before fleeing to the U.S. As a soldier, citizen, and US Senator, Bob Dole has been a champion for Armenia, a role that includes seeking official U.S. recognition of the 1915-1916 Armenian Genocide. During the Centennial Commemoration of WWI, both the history of Armenian Genocide and Senator Dole’s advocacy for its recognition can inform our responses to contemporary crises. The Archival Fellow for Armenian Advocacy will help us understand the depth of our holdings, put them in context, and assist Dole Archives staff in creating a resource module for this topic, ultimately as an introductory resource on the topic for a general audience.
The extensive leadership careers of both Senators Dole and the documentation of their political and civilian activity make our collections a key resource across subjects and academic disciplines, including literature, history, government, politics, leadership, democracy, and the broader American experience.
Our programs are intended to stimulate interest in historical topics relevant to our collections, not just by graduate and post-graduate researchers, but also undergraduate, K-12, and general public audiences.
Recent and future projects connect our collections, which emphasize the latter-half of the 20th century, to projects on all historical periods – including WWI.
Poster for Professor Heather Perry's WWI Talk
For example, in 2015, with support by KU’s WWI commemoration committee, the Dole Archives hosted KU Visiting Professor Heather Perry from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, who led a group of undergraduate students in an examination of historical materials related to her own scholarly project, "Recycling the Disabled: Army, Medicine, and Modernity in the First World War." The students compared WWI-era materials with archival materials pertinent to veterans of WWI and to disability during the Senator’s legislative career, 1960-1996. Perry’s visit coincided with the Dole Institute’s commemorate Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) programming in 2015-2016, recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the 1990 ADA, one of Senator Bob Dole’s signature legislative initiatives.
Dole Archives Beyond WWI The Dole Archive is eager to connect with external audiences on many subjects. Visit our department website for more on our collections, including more than 20,000 pages of keyword, searchable digitized primary sources, learning modules, and lesson plans. Click here for more information.
Congressional Collections Nationwide Like the Dole archival collection, other Congressional archives, many with important research potential, can be found in various repositories across the country, not just in D.C. As with all archival collections, the extent and content vary widely, but these large and wide-ranging collections are worth considering for WWI-related studies – whether or not they are contemporary to the events of WWI.
Comprised of the working papers – unofficial documents, not to be found anywhere else – belonging to members of Congress, they are a window into the processes of our democracy and a reflection of our nation’s values at any given moment. As Raymond W. Smock, former historian of the US House of Representatives and director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies eloquently stated in remarks made in 2014:
“We can use the records of Congress to create a portrait of the collective political, social, economic, and cultural situation through the papers of the members who have served. Congress may best be studied by turning the mirror around and not looking for a single face, but the face of the nation at any given time as seen through the records of Congress. . . Congressional history is not just politics . . . It has dimensions of every subject imaginable that relate to American history and world history.”
Two national organizations devote themselves to teaching and learning based on congressional archives:
ACSC logoThe Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC) supports a wide range of programs designed to inform and educate students, scholars, policy-makers, and members of the general public on the history of Congress, legislative process, and current issues facing Congress. It also encourages the preservation of material that documents the work of Congress –including the papers of current and former members of the House or Representatives and the Senate – and encourages making those materials available for educational and research use.
The Congressional Papers Section of the Society of American Archivists represents those who work with or have an interest in the papers of members of Congress and the records of Congress. The section provides a forum for news, for discussion of issues and developments, and for setting standards and advocating action in the preservation and management of congressional papers and records.
We look forward to working with you!
*Named for US Senator from Kansas Robert J. Dole, the Dole Institute of Politics is to promote political and civic participation as well as civil discourse in a bi-partisan, balanced manner. Through its robust public programming, congressional archive and museum, the Dole Institute strives to celebrate public service and the legacies of both Senator Bob and Senator Elizabeth Dole.
Audrey McKanna Coleman, C.A. is the Senior Archivist of the Robert J. Dole Archive & Special Collections and an Assistant Director of the Dole Institute of Politics. She has 15 years of professional experience in museum, archives, library, and visual resources fields, and is a lecturer in the University of Kansas Undergraduate Honors Program. Audrey has served on the Kansas Historical Records Advisory Board since 2013 and is a member of the 2016-2017 Kansas Humanities Council Speakers Bureau and Lawrence Central Rotary Club. Her book chapter, “Legacy, Leadership, & Collections: Programming in a Congressional Archive”, will be published by ABC-CLIO in the forthcoming New Directions in Special Collections: An Anthology of Practice, Lynne Thomas and Beth Whittaker, eds. in September 2016.
She has a B.A in Spanish and M.A. in Museum Studies, both from the University of Kansas.
Contribute, Share, Teach: All About the WWrite Blog
Do you want to contribute to WWrite? Know someone who could write an awesome post? Want to get students to post or use as a resource? Want to put in requests for topics or themes? Have any comments or suggestions? If you've said yes, then you will want to read what's next: all about the WWrite Blog.
What is the WWrite Blog?
"Dulce et Decorum Est" Manuscript by Wilfred OwenWWrite is a blog sponsored by the World War I Centennial Commission that features both emerging and established writers from all genres who want to help expand and modernize WWI’s complex and abandoned memory in the United States and in the world. WWrite posts a new contribution every 1-2 weeks and provides a weekend update on writerly WWI news 1-2 times per month. With 8,000 subscribers (and growing everyday!), the blog enjoys a diverse readership, which includes, among others, teachers, students, other writers and artists, scholars, military personnel, engineers, scientists, doctors, nurses, chefs, government officials, and business owners. For a more in-depth description click here and here. To access the blog, click here.
Contribute: Who Can Write for the WWrite Blog? How to Submit a Post?
The short answer to the first question is anybody, everybody inspired by writing or events from 1914-1918. The long answer: anybody and everybody who is interested in uncovering and creating the memory of WWI. Read on:
"Uncovering" By uncovering, the blog means that it wants to reveal the numerous forgotten elements in WWI's collective memory: the reality of the soldier’s experience, important roles played by women and other minorities, writers who perished before their poems had a chance at publication, the battles fought on the Eastern front, families holding up the home front, international perspectives of the war, the debilitating injuries, the invisible wounds of PTSD, or the changed life of veterans and their communities after WWI’s end. For example, veteran writer, Benjamin Busch, posted about discovering a WWI cemetery during the Iraq War, highlighting the often-neglected story of the Middle East. Veteran writer Kayla Williams discussed the inspiration she takes from the story of the first enlisted woman in the U.S. military, Loretta Walsh. Allan Howerton talked about the link between his experience as a WWII soldier and his father's, a WWI seaman (Allan is 94-year-old WWII veteran and has just published his third book!).
Poet Seth Brady Tucker in Iraq"Creating" By creating, the blog asks writers, even if they have never written about WWI, to search for it somewhere in their lives, their families, or their writing. The blog believes that this war influenced and still influences many aspects of today’s conceptions of culture, society, history, and identity. Once found, the blog asks writers to compose a short piece dealing with the experience of this discovery and its possible influence in their art. For example, actor and writer, Darryl Dillard, did research into the history of black actors during the WWI-era. In his post, he made a connection between the terrible black actor stereotypes and the mistreatment of black soldiers during the war. Veteran writer, Brian Turner, created a musical composition, “Sleeping in the Trenches,” and talked about the piece’s relationship to war poetry.
Promotion The blog promotes the featured posts through official WWI Centennial Commission email bulletins to subscribers and through social media on the WWICC Facebook and news feed. We also encourage blog writers to publicize it within their own networks. Usually, the posts receive quite a few hits when they’re first published and then are read at a slower rate afterwards. However, the history has shown that people continue to read older posts as the blog evolves.
Publication Project A project is underway to publish the blog entries in a book after November 11, 2108. The book will serve as a permanent memory of contemporary thought during the last few years of the centennial. Your writing has the potential to be part of this meaningful contribution to history.
WWI Father, Bonnie Roy Howerton. WWII Son, Allan Howerton.Submit a post Posts average at around 500-700 words, but the blog does not impose a strict word limit. If you'd like to submit a post, you may email the blog curator, Jennifer Orth-Veillon, at email@example.com or you may go to the main page and click "I would like to contribute a story" from the left-hand column menu. Enter your email address, name, and a short message. You do not have to have the post completed before emailing the curator. A simple idea or inspiration can work at first. She enjoys bouncing ideas back and forth with writers and editing their texts.
Share: How Can I Share the WWRite Blog? How Can I Subscribe? If you like something you read on the WWrite Blog, you can simply share the links within your network. Note: if you just post the link when sharing on Facebook, the image that goes with the link will automatically appear as the WWI Centennial Commission logo. If you wish to keep the images with the original Facebook post, just share the link onto your page. If you would like to share by email with more than just the link, you can, as a subscriber, send the email bulletin you receive each time a new post appears. This contains a short paragraph, a photo, and a link to the site. To become a subscriber and receive the bulletin, go the main page and click on "Subscribe to WWrite and More." After you give your email, you will be asked for a few delivery preferences and then prompted to provide an optional password. That's it!
Major Jasmine MotupalliTeach: How Can I Use the WWrite Blog as a Resource for Students? Reading: Lesson Complement The posts on WWrite can be used in conjunction with a history, political, or literature lesson for students in high school and above. They may complement a particular theme or book by bringing in a modern perspective and comparing it to contemporary conflicts. For example, if teaching Wilfred Owen's famous WWI poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est," Seth Brady Tucker's post, "Discovering WWI Poetry in an Iraqi Foxhole," might be used to show both the universality and specificity of WWI literature for soldiers fighting today's wars. If teaching about the role of African Americans in WWI, Darryl Dillard's post, "The Great War's Influence on Black Male Actors Today," and Jasmine Motupalli's "Iraq and Afghanistan Inspired by Ida B. Wells' WWI Fight", will offer an interesting perspective on the home front during the war.
Writing: Prompt or Submission The blog posts can certainly be used as writing prompts for students thinking about the influence of WWI on today's writing and culture. However, teachers are also encouraged to get students to submit to WWrite as writers. Why not have students, after a lesson about WWI, submit something themselves? For example, a reflection on Owen's poem after reading Tucker's piece? Or, reflections on an investigation into WWI's place in a family history? Teachers may even hold a contest for the best essay, which can be submitted to WWrite for consideration. The curator would also be happy to sit as a "judge" for such submissions if possible.
Mud and the Poets of Passchendaele, Latest Contributors, and Next Week's Post
The Mud Soldier, a sculpture made from Flanders mud to commemorate Passchendaele*
Latest 2 Posts:If you haven't checked out WWrite in a while, here's a quick look at the last 2 posts:
1. August 8th: The Short Story Behind a Photo: This post gets inside the mind of the enemy. Benjamin Sonnenberg writes from the point of view of two of the most important WWI German Generals—Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff— who commiserate over a failed military operation. The story's inspiration? The photo to the left.
2. Journalist Tweets WWI to French Youth: Who says World War I doesn't interest the youth of today? With over 12,000 people following her blog and Twitter feed, this is the question leading a young French journalist's work that strives to give a fresh face to WWI using social media. In her post, France24'sStéphanie Trouillard tells us about her personal and professional passions driving her innovative historical writing project. And a special bonus! She's shared part of her Twitter feed from Bastille Day in Paris, where she covered President Trump meeting French President Emmanuel Macron to commemorate the centenary of the United States' entry in WWI. A great up-close look at this important day!
Next Week's Post: Do you want to contribute to WWrite? Know someone who could write an awesome post? Want to get students to post or use as a resource? Want to put in requests for topics or themes? Have any comments or suggestions? If you've said yes, then you will want to read next week's post that explores these questions in detail, Contribute, Share, Teach: All About WWrite. Don't miss this opportunity to contribute your voices to this important moment in history!
"I died in Hell - they called it Passchendaele." This line from Siegfried Sassoon's poem, "Memorial Tablet," has become the go-to phrase for the commemoration of the Battle of Passchendaele, which began on July 31, 1917, 100 years ago last week. This terrible battle, which raged for 4 months, ended with a total of more than 320,000 allied casualties. Also know as "The Battle of Mud," Passchendaele was fought almost entirely in the rain, which created so much mud, soldiers and horses drowned in it. In fact, 54, 392 soldiers fell, but were never found. Today, 30 remains of of these missing soldiers are still found per week in around Ypres, the town in Belgium where the battle was centralized
To mark the centenary of Passchendaele, this week's WWI Centennial News Episode 31 featured an interview and article about the battle,"Drowning in Mud," by the Great War Project blog curator Mike Shuster. To punctuate the article, the podcast also played Ohio State acting students performing Mary Borden's 1917 poem, "The Song of Mud," which, while written about the Somme, adequately captures the characteristics of the deadly weapon nothing could counteract at Passchendaele—mud. For more about WWI nurse and writer, Mary Borden, check out WWrite's post on her censored work, Forbidden Zone.(To hear the recording, push the play button at WWI Centennial News Episode 31 and fast forward to 8:40) British WWI soldier and poet, Edmund Blunden, gives another look at the terrifying reality of mud in his chilling poem, "Third Ypres." Here are a few lines describing the battle fought not only against the enemy, but also again the unrelenting rain at Passchendaele:
...Then comes the black assurance, then the sky's** Mute misery lapses into trickling rain, That wreathes and swims and soon shuts in our world. And those distorted guns, that lay past use, Why -- miracles not over! -- all a-firing! The rain's no cloak from their sharp eyes. And you, Poor signaller, you I passed by this emplacement, You whom I warned, poor daredevil, waving your flags, Amid this screeching I pass you again and shudder At the lean green flies upon the red flesh madding. Runner, stand by a second. Your message. -- He's gone, Falls on a knee, and his right hand uplifted Claws his last message from his ghostly enemy, Turns stone-like. Well I liked him, that young runner, But there's no time for that. O now for the word To order us flash from these drowning roaring traps And even hurl upon that snarling wire? Why are our guns so impotent?...
*The Mud Soldier was created to mark the start of the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium on July 31, 1917.The art installation in Trafalgar Square was crafted from mud and sand from Flanders Fields in Passchendaele and was displayed for just four days before it slowly dissolved as it was exposed to rain. It was created by artists, Damian and Killian Van Der Velden, twin sisters from Belgium. Photo courtesy of Express.
**Passchendaele Battlefield in September 2017, Courtesy of Great War Photos