Thursday, November 27, 2014
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Eleven, eleven, eleven …
THE eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month … as the Middle East explodes in violence and Russia sends troops into the Ukraine to support its nationals there, leaders the world over meet to mark the end, 100 years ago, of the war to end all wars.
Reader Ken Tilly sends in a poem he discovered recently as a newspaper cutting from the Mercury, published in the days when "the late John Vigor was the incumbent Idler."
It's from World War II (also remembered today) and commemorates South Africans' role in the Battle of El Alamein. It is written by a Canadian, E Ann Rayn, and first appeared in the Toronto Star in August 1943.
This is the road the warriors took and gave to it their name.
Christened it with their blood and everlasting fame.
This is the place of screaming planes and the hell of guns and tanks.
Where the boys of the South came gaily up to die in their serried ranks.
And not for the Empire did they die, but for something greater still:
For the right of man to plan his life and work his own good will.
They died that other men might live and little children sing.
When the winter of oppression's gone and the world blooms forth in spring.
And some lay down in sandy graves and some 'neath bush and tree.
And bright blue waters wash the limbs of those who died at sea.
And for ever after the war is done and the world goes on it's way,
We shall remember the lads who died for truth today.
Where red geranium hedges beside some Cape Town lane,
Where sudden thunders growl their way across the Transvaal plain,
Where the arum lily spreads her satin wedding dress of white,
And lithe wild creatures steal to drink beside some pool at night,
Where great Rhodes sleeps his endless sleep upon his rocky hill,
We shall remember them, indeed with hearts both proud and still.
We shall speak a thousand times a day of those who bore the load.
And paved the way for the last great fight and are named in the Springbok Road.
As long as commerce goes her way and free men sail the sea. As long as there are coloured flags to dip in the morning breeze,
As long there'll be the Springbok Road across the barren plain,
And the ghosts of heroes walk the way that leads to Alamein.
One thinks, in the context, of the lines of Uys Krige:
En Fort Wajir le ver, le ver,
Onderkant die awendster …
(And Fort Wajir lies far, lies far,
Underneath the Evening Star …)
Fort Wajir is, of course, Krige's symbol of peace.
A CHEERY footnote to the above – "the late John Vigor" is still very much with us, though plying his craft these days from a place called Bellingham, which is a harbour town on the Pacific coast of America, just beneath the Canadian border. I hear from him now and again.
DONOUGH McGillycuddy, of Himeville, who entertained us last week with some thoughts on kissing, follows up on the theme with lines by Dorothy Gurney that he says are carved into a stone wall at West Woodhay House, Berkshire, England.
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth.
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
Yep, that's as true of Himeville as it is of Berkshire.
A GERMAN civilian finds himself sitting with Swiss soldiers in a café in Basel during World War I. He asks the Swiss sitting opposite: "Vould you fire on ze Germans if zey came to Switzerland?"
"Vaiter! A glass uff beer for zis brave soldier! And your kamerades at ze next table? Vould zey fire on ze Germans?"
"Non, monsieur. Zey would no more fire on ze Germans zan I would."
"Excellent! Vaiter, glasses uff beer for all zese soldiers. Tell me, dear friend, are all Swiss soldiers as good friends uff ze Germans as you are?
"Ah. I cannot say. "
"But tell me vhy you personally vould not fire on ze Germans."
"Because I'm in ze band."
"If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war."
― Leo Tolstoy