I objected, in the heat of the summer, to a blogger who made fun of Harry Patch’s name. Henry John Patch, for those of you who don’t know, was one of the last surviving soldiers from World War I, and he died on July 25th. He was 111. He was our last link to trench warfare and trench foot. He was the last link to what we used to call Shell Shock, and now we call hell. He was the link to mustard gas and the Western Front.
I was excoriated by other commentors on the blog. I was called a bitch, and told I had no sense of humour. One of them turned up here and threatened to slap me. And I was bewildered and I am still. All of this for standing up and suggesting honour and respect. It’s not that the name isn’t strange (although, it’s actually not in the UK), it’s that when we reduce someone to their name, when we poke fun, we reduce and then we forget. Forgetting is dangerous. Forgetting is frantic years between WWI and WWII, dancing the Charleston while the world fell apart around us. Forgetting is not always a conscious choice, it is the mark of carelessness, a refusal to pause, a refusal to take seriously. Forgetting begins with poking fun.
Harry Patch came home from the trenches, married his sweetheart, and became a plumber. He had 2 sons, and when the next war came, he was too old to go off and fight. Death and war have always been a young man’s game.
I took a course in World War II history, and if you know anything about that war, you know that you start with the war to end all wars. You start with the terms of the armistice, signed in a railway car in France, at 5:30 in the morning, before the sun came up on November 11, 1918. Like all wars, World War II was rooted in history, rooted firmly in our mistakes, in not learning the lesson, in forgetting.
I have always known peace. I have never heard air raid sirens and seen ration books and felt fear of a loved one dying far from home. And in that place of solid peace, the history prof played us the sound of an air raid in London. From BBC footage and recordings of Stuka’s diving, the sounds of war. The scream of a doodle bug falling, the terrible silence and the blast. More screams. Air raid sirens, fire sirens, shouts and wails. Smashing buildings, smashing crockery, smashing lives.
I was changed that day.
It seems to me that there is not much I can do, to stop the calls that lead us off to war. I cannot rid the world of evil, and I cannot feed and clothe the broken. I cannot sign treaties, and I cannot ensure a voice for everyone. I cannot even understand what it is to live in war, all the books I read, the pictures I see leave me confused, unable to understand. I have stood in London, I have seen the damage still. I have heard the words of those who lived then. And still I know not. All that is left to me is to remember. To hold corporate memory.
Speak softly of this world’s Harry Patches. Speak clearly and with care.
Those of us who do not put our lives on the line for our country should at least honor those who do. Thank you for your words.
(Gentle correction…I think you mean World War I in your 4th paragraph.)
@areyoukiddingme: no, no, WW2 has its roots in WW1, which was the "War to End All Wars", "The Great War". The punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles, designed to prevent Germany ever raising an armed force again created an awful lot of resentment, particularly in the heart of one Lieutenant in the German Army who managed to work the system to get himself into power, legitimately. The League of Nations was somewhat ineffectual. Macmillan proclaimed 'Peace in Our Time' – but what he did as part of the Munich Treaty was buy England enough time to build up armaments for a war that was inevitable.
Harrowing listening, (I should put Len Deighton's Bomber on again): the Imperial War Museum is somewhere I intend to take the Brownies next year, with my Mum in tow as being the age they are now during the Second World War. This year the Brownies were visited by a gentleman who had fought in Italy and by a Bevin Boy.
Wow, what an incredibly powerful post.
Thank you for this, you honor my much loved Uncle, WWII veteran who liberated Dachau and Treblinka. He was 19 y/o.
I defy that lame-o blogger and the other village idjits to get up in my face about his name, Fink. No sense of humor? Hmm, I think they have no sense of honor or shame.
So beautiful and so humbling. What a powerful way to share one's "remembrance" of the world's veterans.
Thanks for a very well written post. It expresses the significance of why we remember the horrors of war and the death of our soldiers.
Lest We Forget
So many of us don't understand the horrors of war. And I say shame on those who made fun of Harry Patch's name, not understanding the suffering he went through.
My husband's grandparents were bombed numerous times during the Blitz, losing everything they had saved years for, twice. They were newlyweds, and Grandad served in the navy. Once his ship was bombed and sank, though he survived w/ injuries. I'm sad my children won't know firsthand what their gentle great-grandfather did.
This is a powerfully moving post. I read it several times through.
Well written (as always), Mrs. Spit.
Someone came to your house to slap you because you took offense at the mockery of a veteran?
Jeepers. I thought America was screwy.
I have a great sense of humor by the way. I'm trying to think this through. A person hears a story of courage. Instead of praising the person, they mock his name? That's ignorant.
I was born in January 1946, so my mother was carrying me as the sirens sounded and they fled in fear into the bomb shelters. To this day, when I hear that kind of siren (like they sound at 12:00 noon in the nearby town), I have an instant of unease, like that feeling when they say "someone just walked over my grave"–I heard the real thing in the womb and absorbed my mother's fear. Let's NEVER forget.
This is a lovely post. Thank you.
If we don't stop to remember those who have passed on fighting for the freedoms we all take for granted, then who will?
Thank you for taking the time to name those despite the trolls who have come to dump on you.
Powerful words. Well and clearly stated.
God Bless you Harry Patch. May you heart have ease, May you rest with the angels.
God Bless you Antony Radena. Grampy. Who saw Vimy, and mustard gas. Brought his war bride west. Raised a family, a garden and goats. Loved his baby grand daughters and died too soon too young in pain from the burning.
God Bless you Al Albrecht. Who fixed the planes that other men flew, knew the sound of the engines and counted them home. Who loved a prairie girl, and died of a broken heart sixty years later.
God bless you Branden, and Scott, and Yves, as you carry the maple leaf into the desert and mountains of Afghanistan. May your journey help bring peace and safety to the little girls and boys. women and those men too who are weary and alone. May your strength support the care and education of a troubled people.
May there be Peace. May you all come safely home.
this post goes with your later one on the idealism of youth and what you do today.
Most of us don't make big splashes, don't change the world ona gran scale. But we can keep the world together. We can remember.
And making fun of a man's name, seeing him as less than a man, is not enough steps from the Nazi's Final Solution. It's the folks that stand up that keep it in check.
Have you seen the miniseries "Band of Brothers"? Triple S and I just finished watching it.