Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Some thoughts for Remembrance day

I wanted to write a post related to Remembrance Day, because it is such a very important occasion and I think it is right that we honour the people who fought in two world wars and later conflicts to ensure our freedom and peace today. I've just been standing outside the library with one of my colleagues, listening to the Magdalen bells chime 11, and hearing the canon fired from Christchurch. I was a little sad that not more people joined in.

Unfortunately I hadn't got round to reading anything suitable in time, but was inspired earlier to read Operation Heartbreak, one of my unread Persephones after reading about it on DoveGreyReader's blog - set in the Second World War it sounds like a wonderful read for tonight and maybe I'll have a review of it tomorrow if you like.

I have read a number of excellent books set in the second world war this year, predominantly published by Persephone and Virago*, and the bonus of reading titles from these publishers is that they often offer a woman's perspective into life in wartime. Until the 1990s it was very unfashionable to look at war from the female point of view, but since then there has been a proliferation of literature looking at women's experiences - at home, in the factories, and on the land. This was one of the most interesting things that I studied at university, and two anthologies of women's writings which I would recommend are Wartime Women, edited by Dorothy Sheridan which utilises Mass Observation's research during the second world war, and Hearts Undefeated, a collection published by Virago.

At this time of year, I always like to get out my little book of Poems of the Great War - I think the war poets give a great insight into the futility of the First World War. I was hugely privileged to visit the First World War battlefields in 2002 and this little book was the perfect accompanient to the travels as it helped to contextualise the endless cemetries and what is now just countryside. One of my favourite poems is one of the most famous ones, but I like it because
it reminds me why we wear poppies to remember, and also because I saw the ambulance station at Essex Farm in Belgium where the author, John Macrae, reputedly wrote the poem for the funeral of a friend.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

* Four wartime related Virago Modern Classics that I've written about on my other blog are:
Mrs Miniver
On the side of angels
Love lessons
One fine day


  1. I'd love to read a review of Operation Heartbreak tomorrow!

    The poetry of The Great War is incredibly powerful and evocative.

    Reading the WW1 section of The Children's Book (the short section that I actually liked) reminded me how much I want to read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks - it has been on my TBR list for too many years.

  2. Claire - you must read Birdsong, it is truly a wonderful book (and quite at odds with some of Faulks recent writing which has been quite frankly disappointing). I shall do my best to write about Operation heartbreak tomorrow, I definitely want to read it tonight and it's not too long.

  3. I was in town this morning, in the Central Library at 11 am, the silence was observed there.
    Last stop off before returning home was the Red Cross charity shop, where I came across the unmistakeable Persephone grey cover on "Little Boy Lost" by Marghanita Laski. Have never read anything by her before so this will be my first.

  4. Hi Geraldine - when I worked in a public library, we used to observe the silence there, and it was amazing the way that the building would go silent. I read Little Boy Lost earlier in the week, and didn't think it was my favourite Persephone so far, but I know Paperback Reader loved it, and it is a very appropriate Remembrance Day read.

  5. Am I going mad or DID you just switch your blog round?! A bit worried about my sanity if you didn't! It looks very nice by the way.

    Lovely and thoughtful post Verity. I find anything to do with the war incredibly sad and I struggle to read literature and poetry about it because it just makes me want to cry at the pointless loss of so many lives. But it is so right that we all continue to make the effort to remember what sacrifices people have made and continue to make to ensure our safety and the safety of others across the world, whether we agree with the wars they are fighting or not.

  6. No - you're not going mad Rachel - I just decided that I would like another change and swapped the blog and other bits over!! I am feeling that it is time for a bit more minimalism which might make more people who don't like pink so much visit and comment! I agree that we should certainly remember people's sacrifices and I found myself getting quite cross with the people around me who didn't want to take the time out of their day to remember.

  7. I love that poem being read on Remembrance Day, very touching Verity.

    Today, at 11 pm, the Lancaster Bomber flew over Ancaster accompanied by some other warplanes from the Heritage Warplane Museum...shivers. When you think that some of the gunners on those planes were only 18 - 20 years-old during the war, well it's beyond belief really.

  8. Ooops, that should be 11 am, how shameful.

  9. How wonderful to see a Lancaster Bomber flying over Darlene. Nothing like that happened here but I always think it is amazing when they get out the old planes.

  10. I've begun on Little Boy Lost, seems good so far, so I'm pleased with that impulse buy.
    I probably had read about it on Paperback Reader's blog or maybe on Random Jottings.

    I've also been reading Maisie Dobbs crime fiction by Jacqueline Winspear - borrowed from the library. Have now reached the 3rd one in the series. They are set in the early 1930s, but the root causes of the mysteries have all been due (so far)to events in WW1.

  11. The Maisie Dobbs sounds intriguing Geraldine - I must look out for them!


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