For the first time in my life, I am living in a country that doesn’t have a Remembrance Day because it has not fought in a war for over 100 years. The Swiss pride themselves on neutrality as though being neutral proves or even protects the country’s innocence. I’m not sure how much I can buy into that idea, although I guess that’s another story for another day.
In Australia, Remembrance Day is engrained into our social, cultural, and historical existence. The phrase, “Lest we forget…” is muttered from the lips of pensive and nostalgic Australians from the break of dawn until the setting of the sun on the 11th of November. Many Australian’s have great uncles and grandfathers who have fought in the war. My Australian lineage does not possess such a scar and when I participate in Remembrance Day, it is with feelings of detachment and awe.
Whether you believe in the right to fight and kill for King and country or not, war, in particular the First World War, has shaped Western culture and the arts. From fiction to nonfiction, paintings to sculptures, the war has become a touchstone for how the West creates, destroys, and rebuilds in the form of art.
If you are interested in learning more about Australia’s involvement in the Great War, I would suggest that you check out Death’s Men by Denis Winter. It is a history book, but it is extremely well written with lots of excerpts from diaries, memoirs, poems, and propaganda from the time. It has become my favourite book on the First World War and I love the books attempt at collective remembrance. Winter offers a detailed description and understanding of the Australian involvement pre- and post-war. “Shared experience and shared awareness recall a time when a man’s life was at its prime and when men experienced closer friendship for the duration than they were ever likely to enjoy in civilian life after the war” (21).
To leave you with something powerful, here is part of the Ode of Remembrance:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
What is your favourite WWI novel, poem, artwork, song? I would love to hear yours. Remember to share the reading love.