If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
– Rupert Brooke
Today is the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916; the largest battle of the First World War and the greatest loss of life in the history of the British Army.
It is hard to find adequate words for this day as we remember sacrifice on that scale. I wonder if we think enough on the way and the reasons people gave their lives.
When I was at school we made a trip to some of the Somme battlefields and memorials, including the Thiepval memorial (pictured above*) where the commemoration service was held today. I am very thankful that we went there. We walked some of the tracks over the fields; we made our way through ruins of some of the dug-outs and trenches; we counted names on the huge memorials; we passed through lines of stark white crosses. I remember looking at the engraving of the name of one soldier not yet 16. We could not imagine the horror that was suffered and the lives given in those fields but it did give a lasting impression, just a little more, of the scale of the sacrifice and what we remember.
At school we also studied the poem above. Most of the analyses of it focus on Brooke’s patriotism. Yes, of course that love of and gratitude for our homeland is strong and passionate. But the way I read it, it is not an isolating, insular love of our country. It is a generous love. As England blessed The Soldier, so the Soldier is giving himself for a better world, and looking forward to the peace of the pure peace of heaven; he “gives somewhere back” the good that he has, in his life and in his death.
The sacrifices of these soldiers seem all the more poignant to me this year, given the current uncertainty of the future for the peaceful Europe we fought for, sparked by our exit last week. They also remind us that we have come through far worse times than now, and that we have so very much to be thankful for.
– We will remember Them. –
*With thanks to somme2016.org for the image
PS – for some reason my blog has decided not to let me insert hyperlinks in my post above tonight 😦 To read more about the 100th anniversary commemorations, you can visit: http://www.somme-battlefields.com/centenary-somme-centenary-14-18/commemorations-2016-countdown-has-begun