Honor, courage, selflessness

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.

8 Likes

Did you have a particular reason for posting this very moving poem today?

John Macrae was a Canadian doctor who enlisted into the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the outbreak of war in 1914. He was assigned as a medical officer to a brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery. He wrote the poem in May 1915, when he was serving at an Advanced Dressing Station at a position known as Essex Farm, just outside the town of Ypres (now Ieper). This was just behind the front line.

Essex Farm is now a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery which I’ve visited. The bunker in which Macrae tended the wounded still exists.

https://www.cwgc.org/visit-us/find-cemeteries-memorials/cemetery-details/15800/essex-farm-cemetery/

2 Likes

At the risk of speaking for @Respectfully_Declined, this weekend is Memorial Day weekend in the US.

4 Likes

Many thanks, Dave. I knew that you had such a Day but did not know when it was.

In respect, I will hold a thought for 1215758, Corporal Frederick William Bann, 108th Infantry Regiment, United States Army, killed in action 29 September 1918, aged 18. He is buried at the Somme American Cemetery, Bony, France.

This is his story, which was first researched by John Eaton for his booklet about the men commemorated on the war memorial at Hazel Grove (now in the Borough of Stockport, northwest England). Eaton had not found any record of him in documents then available but, some eight years later when I undertook my own research into the borough’s war dead, the internet confirmed he had served with American forces.

He was born in the December quarter of 1899, the son of local butcher, Fred Bann and his wife Margaret. When the 1901 Census was taken, the family was living at 281 Buxton Road, Heaviley. Frederick’s grandmother, Harriett Bann was also living with them.

Fred and Margaret had married in a civil ceremony a year or so before and they would have another child, Ruth, in 1902. In his book, Mr Eaton mentions an extract from a local history book which records a Fred Bann as being a member, in 1910, of a local cricket team, comprised of butchers. It notes that Fred later went abroad and, indeed, it was in that year.

For the purposes of my research, on-line records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Australian and Canadian national archives were examined to try to identify Frederick, but without success. Enquiries in New Zealand also proved fruitless. However, an internet search of American military websites provided several references to Frederick and, with the help of fellow enthusiasts from the Great War Forum, his story can now be told.

The family had immigrated to America and took up residence at 146 Center Street in the village of East Aurora on the shore of Lake Cayuga in northern New York State. Frederick enlisted into the US Army on 31 March 1917, at Buffalo, joining Company L of the 108th Regiment which came from the State. He was 17½.

Whilst still in training, Frederick was promoted to Private 1st Class on 26 July and to Corporal a month later. However, on 9 November, he was demoted back to Private. Presumably this was a punishment for a disciplinary offence, but the details are not known.

The Regiment arrived in France in May 1918 and it would be early July before they were ready to take over a section of the front line west of Ypres. They suffered their first fatalities on the 23rd.

During the night of 27/28 September, Frederick and his comrades moved into trenches near the village of Hargicourt in preparation for an attack on the German defensive positions known as the Hindenberg Line. It would their first time in a major action. Throughout the day, their positions came under machine gun and artillery fire and casualties were suffered…

An account of the attack, by J F Oakleaf, published in the early 1920s records “ Reports show that every unit went “Over the Top” in perfect order, and at the start, maintained an interval from 20 to 50 paces between waves, for quite some distance. As the first wave reached the area swept by our barrage, visibility became poor, due to unfavorable atmospheric conditions and our smoke screen to cover our advance. It was difficult to see more than a few yards because a heavy fog hung close to the ground. Advance was then made by compass reading and as orderly as possible under an enemy counter barrage, the first wave suffered many casualties during the initial advance.”

“The advance was then continued with little resistance until the remaining troops arrived at the first wire entanglements of the HINDENBURG LINE. At this point they met the full resistance of a fortified position such as the world had never known. However by desperate fighting and on account of the fact that our tremendous barrage had opened devious ways through acres of barbed wire, portions of our 2nd Battalion were able to establish themselves in the Main HINDENBURG System. The position was held against severe counter attacks and enfilading artillery and machine gun fire from the direction of BONY”.

The Americans were later relieved from these positions by Australian troops. The Regiment had suffered 154 fatal casualties and many more wounded. Almost certainly, Frederick was originally buried at St Emilie, near to where he was killed. After the War, a new American Cemetery was created at Bony and all the nation’s dead from the Somme were re-interred there.

When the US census was taken in 1920, Fred, Margaret and Ruth were still living in rented accommodation in East Aurora. Fred had changed career when he moved to America and worked as the editor of a local magazine and, later, writing advertisements for a newspaper.

NOT FORGOTTEN.

4 Likes

Have you researched and written about the St Nazaire Raid by HMS Campbeltown?

My interest in military history, in the last couple of decades or so, has been pretty much confined to the Great War. It was, however, kindled years before, by the war between the American states. I toured American battlefields long before I toured ones in Belgium and France.

And, related to a couple of trips to South Africa, I’ve read a fair bit about the Zulu Wars and the Second Boer War. But no expertise there.

I was uninterested in history as a kid but turned out being a history major.

1 Like

I think it is noteworthy that many people who are not US citizens have joined the US military. What is often a sacrifice has been and continues to be a path to US citizenship. Also of note is the Americans who joined British forces before the US joined the The Second War.

1 Like

During college, some 50 years ago, at what is now called the University at Buffalo, I spent considerable time visiting East Aurora, and have some prints created by artisans of the Roycroft group during the Arts and Crafts movement. Its founder, Elbert Hubbard, was once at least as well-known as fellow East Auroran, President Millard Fillmore. Hubbard had a role in the Spanish-American War, as writer-publisher of the Letter to Garcia. It may be that Frederick Bann’s desire for military service was inspired in part by that article. http://roycrofter.com

2 Likes

My interest began as a kid as most of our Fathers fought in WWII. My Grandfather Fought in WWI and was gassed but survived.

One of these guys from the B24 crew was my Father flying missions out of Attlebridge , Norfolk, England.

Erwin H Sorensen Jr | American Air Museum in Britain

2 Likes

The WW1 museum in KC.

2 Likes

Been there and it was awesome.

1 Like

And during the Great War. A goodly number of Americans travelled north and joined Canadian forces.

Some years back, we were in the village of Stow-in-the-Wold and had a look round the church. Inside was a war memorial to the men of the congregation who had been killed during the war. It intrigued me to see the name of Harry Butters listed as “An American Citizen”. I made a note to see if I could research him and, in due course, found a letter he had written home which had a food connection - so I included his story in my “Bully Beef & Biscuits” book. He was a Californian and had spent a year in the UK in his youth, attending a Jesuit school here. When war was declared, he felt a sense that the Britsh cause was just and he should be part of it. He arrived in February 1915, staying with friends in Stow, and joined the army, very quickly receiving a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, first in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and then in the Artillery. He was killed in action on 31 August 1916 when he was struck by an exploding enemy shell.

https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/541748/HARRY%20A%20BUTTERS/

3 Likes

John,

You probably know about this. Let me know if you can’t read it and I’ll cut and paste for you.

Hi Dave. It’s not letting me in (oddly, as there is supposed to be a free “browse” facility for a few articles).

But, yes, I knew about the repatriation of bodies. As you probably know, Britain and its dominions did not go down that route and all of our dead are buried near to where they died.

These are often quite small cemeteries - maybe a hundred or so burials. And life has carried on around them. I remember going to visit the grave of a guy from our village, who had been killed when a shell hit his truck. At the time, it would have been a rural location but the town of Arras has expanded and it’s now an area of fairly modern housing. You access the cemetery from the road down a small grass track - and the graves are completely surrounded by the back gardens of the houses.

My “favourite” small cemetery relates to the 1916 Battle of the Somme. A mile or so north from where my grandad and his brother were going “over the top” on 1 July, two battalions of the Devonshire Regiment was doing similar. On 4 July, they returned to the area and used their own front line trench to bury 153 of their dead who had been recovered from No Mans Land. They erected a wooden cross - replaced in the 1980s by a stone memorial. Now, as then, it bears an inscription that never fails to bring tears to my eye (even just typing this). “The Devonshires held this trench. The Devonshires hold it still.”

https://www.cwgc.org/visit-us/find-cemeteries-memorials/cemetery-details/59801/DEVONSHIRE%20CEMETERY,%20MAMETZ/

Hi John,

I’ve seen some of the small cemeteries on trips to France. It’s heartening that at least the ones I saw were well cared for by locals.

I don’t want to violate copyright on the Washington Post article so just some bits under fair use that may be of interest.

In 1919, when Theodore J. Argiroplos, of Keyser, W. Va., got the government post card asking if he wanted the body of his brother shipped home for burial, he entered “yes” on the appropriate line.

Apparently 44,000 bodies were repatriated, just under 2/3 of those Americans who died. The logistics of embalming for the trip and the load planning on the ships must have been staggering.

William Abrams, of Philadelphia, said he did not want the body of his son, Sgt. Albert Abrams, home for burial. “The field of honor is the place,” he wrote on the card.

Apparently a goodly number of people felt similarly. Of course there were a number of the fallen whose families were not located and also of course some bodies unidentified or never found.

As you surely know the US has a cultural imperative to repatriate remains. There is a continuing effort in Viet Nam and occasionally even Korea.

For many Americans Memorial Day is a day off. For those of us who have gone into harms way for our country, whether in uniform or other services, and for families and friends it is a poignant day.

1 Like

The War Graves Commission is responsible for the maintenance of the cemeteries and, indeed, war graves in the UK (men who died in service at home). It employs teams of gardeners in Belgium and France and has other facilities there. I think headstones are produced there and, certainly, names on headstones and memorial panels are re-engraved by their local employees. As far as climate permits, the Commission tries to have planting schemes that use plants that grow in the UK. A sense of home, if you will.

Repatriation of bodies is a tricky thing. A handful of British casualties were brought home in the early days of the war - men from prominent families. From time to time, the question still crops up here, with someone wanting to bring their ancestor’s remains back to the UK. The Commission always rejects these requests but I can’t recall a family taking it as far as the courts.

We don’t have an equivalent holiday to Memorial Day. Our main commemoration is on Remembrance Sunday - the Sunday nearest to 11 November. This has always had a strong religious element in it, so no longer sits as easily with our increasing diverse and secular population. It’s very much run by the Church of England and it’s not uncommon for other religious groups to be not formally invited to participate. I don’t go to our village ceremony at the war memorial because of this - ours is one where there is exclusion. Whilst the two Christian churches participate, there’s no invitation the local synagogue or mosque. Instead, I go privately to the war memorial on Armistice Day which is making something of a comeback in recent years.

2 Likes

November 10 and 11th are my favorite U.S. holiday[s]. Well at least some of us hold the Marine Corps birthday and Veterans Day, respectively, near and dear.

I celebrate July 4th by sending a sympathy card and a red, white, and blue bouquet of flowers to my British buddy in California. On a scale of 1 to 10 I give the July Fourth holiday a 1,776. :smirk:

2 Likes

Interesting, thoughtful and informative posts all. DefinItely an American weekend holiday worthy of reflection and gratitude.

2 Likes

An error crept in to my original attempt at this (now deleted). I’ll try again.

A family member lived in upstate New York and used to tell American colleagues that Britons celebrate 4 July as Thanksgiving. With some historical basis, IMO - a mistake we never repeated.

3 Likes
“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold