On November 11th I went to The Eternal Flame in Kiev to pay my respects to the souls lost in war. The flame burns day and night at The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier killed in the IIWW.
Passing through The Park of Eternal Glory towards the granite obelisk, I saw children playing around the monument. Happy, healthy and smiling, their innocent little faces not yet aware of the ugly game of war.
I thought of the many soldiers who never returned to their families and remembered my visits to the military cemeteries in northern France and Belgium.
I was seventeen when I went to Ypres, walking among rows of white gravestones some with names and others “A soldier of The Great War”, some only teenage boys.
You don’t forget that.
American, British and Commonwealth soldiers all lie where they fell.
Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world with 11,954 soldiers buried. The never-ending lines of white marble hit you wave upon wave. The scale, the silence, the enormity, is overwhelming.
These thousands of strangers fought so we can walk the same plains freely.
I owe them my life. We all do.
The German Langemark Cemetery has 24,917 soldiers buried in a mass grave. Back then this was the enemy. Now a reminder of the cost and madness of war. German or British, neither returned from battle. On both sides men were sent to destroy each other, reducing humans to killing machines, all paying the ultimate price.
In Flanders fields you sense the scars of the past. It shivers over you and never leaves.
Standing where 90,000 men perished, on ground that holds their memories, soaked up their blood, and covers their bones, like the land you are forever changed.
Nothing could grow on the barren battlefields, the soil so shaken and damaged, but for a little crimson bloom.
Every spring a blanket of red poppies now covers the fallen.
The earth where guns once raged, gently turns fields of blood to fields of blossoms – a poppy for a vanished soul.
In Flanders Fields
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.
– John McCrae, May 1915