Poetic relief from rural Plattsville Ontario, Oxford County August 11 1919

“God Bless Our Men” is found on a locally produced Plattsville, Ontario photo group portrait of local and area men and women who served the Canadian state in its armed forces during World War I. The front cover of the fold over pasted in real photographic postcard group photo which shows 15 men in different CEF unit uniforms, 2 in mufti (i.e. civilian clothing) and 1 women in her Canadian military nurse’s uniform posed as a group. Besides the nurse, 2 of the 16 men shown wear CEF officer’s uniform. The photo and the accompanying verse below “God Bless Our Men” was meant to serve as both a victory celebration and tangible reminder of collective local voluntary state services. A major reason why so many Canadian remembrances and simple acknowledgements are absent, distorted, forgotten is the rurally based composition of much of the CEF. With rapid 20th century urbanization in Canada and elsewhere traditional family farming communities were dissolved thus placing loose small mobile cultural properties of all kinds at high risk of willful abandonment and/or destruction. This poetic postcard is thus valuable in reminding us of how local communities viewed their just returned veterans. The 2nd row sit in 4 fine wicker chairs on a neatly manicured lawn right outside a multi-story white-painted house and probably the photo was taken on an official local welcome home celebration. Emotional relief that these 16 men and 1 women survived come through with the poem’s repeated textual emphasis of the fact that these people had returned. Interestingly not one of them displays any visible war damage in the photo. The typical Union Jack in the image and the express repeated references to God visually and literally symbolize the imperial and Christian cultures in which the local anonymous versifier lived including the secular roles that organized religion played in daily lives especially of rural people. One person who may be shown in the photo is: Private James Wellington Furtney C.E.F. Serial 730720 who was born in Plattsville and lived and worked in the area enlisting in April 1916 in Preston, Ontario. It is possible given his physical description in his CEF papers that he may be one of the two men in civilian clothes shown as he was discharged in January 1919 and so would have had time to readjust to civilian life compared to the others shown in CEF uniforms who are presumably just or very recently returned.

The front of the folding mounted photo postcard is entitled:

“In honor of those who served King and country from this district. Plattsville, August 11, 1919”

On the back of the mount is the poem, viz.:

God Bless Our Men

God Bless our noble men,
Welcome safe home again,
God Bless our men.
For “peace and victory”
On land and on the sea,
Our praise shall rise to Thee
Great God our King.

In battles long and loud
Wrapped in war’s awful shroud,
Our men endured,
Faced death ‘mid shot and shell,
Bravely they fought and well
Now they are home to dwell
The end secured.

Some shall return no more
They died on yonder shore
For our Empire.
Our victory they bought,
For you and me they fought,
Their love for freedom, ought
Our hearts inspire.

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Fall update 1

I know that it has been a while heck several months since I blogged. Good news though as I have some great poems coming. I also will be posting and cross-referencing to YouTube as well as stated earlier here. So please stay tuned! Welcome to another blog follower as well! It might be best to actually follow this blog as then you can keep up to date automatically. Verse on!

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Through thick and Salisbury mud the Canadians will show the Kaiser – a local British imperial patriotic poem card late 1914

In 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm referred to the British Army as that “contemptible little army.” British Expeditionary Force (BEF) veterans fondly adopted the epithet and those who served from August to November 1914 referred to themselves as the “Old Contemptibles” which was also used as the titular name of several British veterans groups. The Kaiser’s pejorative rhetoric did highlight the very small land forces available to Britain especially relative to the mass conscript land forces of continental Europe. Canada’s offer therefore of an entire division was warmly welcomed by the War Office in Whitehall, London, England. Canadian and Imperial pre-war strategic plans in case Britain went to war was for Canada to furnish a single division with a total of 25,000 officers and men. The 1st Canadian Contingent sailed in October 1914 for England with a strength of 33,000. The British selected Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England for stationing and training these Canadians. The poem below “King George’s Boys on Salisbury Plain, 1914 / The Empire’s Boys” was composed and published by B. Winton as part of his “Benwint Series” 60 North Road, Brighton, England in late 1914 but probably printed in early 1915 as the postcard has an undivided back which such postcard back types produced from 1915 onwards.

Winton’s patriotic poetic bugling was hardly needed but is poetically pictorially representative of the overwhelming numbers of English who viewed the Canadians (and the Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians and other British Imperial forces arriving in Britain and elsewhere to support the war effort) with very real warm feelings of welcoming, comradeship, support in crisis times and shared efforts amidst the significant stresses of war. Given the vastly outnumbered British forces, the admitted superiority of German military organization and training and very real invasion fears at the start of the war the arrival of “Canadians” (the clear majority of this 1st Contingent were unmistakably British immigrants to Canada – note 3rd stanza opening line “Real British sons,…”)

Many centuries ago on Salisbury Plain,
A terrible battle was fought,
The men on both sides strove with might and main,
But dearly was victory bought.

Their duty they did and to martial strains
Died thousands of brave men and true;
And now are encamped on the same ancient plain
The Empire’s Canadian Boys — True Blue.

Real British sons, steadfast and brave,
As their Fathers were of yore;
Each fond of a ‘gal’ and true to a ‘pal,’
Earnest in play or war.

Though short is the time since the Empire’s Call,
You hastened at once to obey;
You are doing your “bit” for the dear homeland
Each minute you work or play.

You’re anxious to get to the Front at the Foe,
And sure — you’re fine lads and true;
Might proud was His Majesty when saw the fire
In the eyes of his troops on review.

You have come up like men to play a man’s part,
(For slackers the Empire’s no use);
And when the dare-devil CANADIANS get to the front,
KAISER BILL will think HELL’S been let loose.

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The Survivor a poignant 1934 reflective feminine war voice

“The Survivor” was written by Mrs. Amabel King (maiden name Reeves) (born: May 3, 1899, Toronto, Ontario – died: January 19, 1979 Brompton, Ontario) during her final year (1934) studying in the University of Toronto Extension Journalism course in which she was registered during 1932 to 1934. “The Survivor” under the initial title “My Old Shoes” was awarded the U of T Journalism Student Prize in May,1934. In 1935 her poem along with a historically based but semi-fictionalized autobiographical story revolving around Reeves’s V.A.D. overseas participation at the end of and immediate aftermath of the war was published in a pamphlet as “Relics of a V.A.D.” Toronto, Ontario: The Leslie Press, page 7 although her poem “The Survivor” had already appeared in a 1934 issue of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire magazine “ECHOES.” The University of Toronto Archives copy has an inscription on the front flyleaf, viz.: “To John M. Elson who guided my first faltering steps in the literary world – my sincere appreciation. Amabel King. Dec. 7. 1935.” John Melbourne Elson (born: 1880 – died: ? ) was a minor novelist (e.g. “The Scarlet Sash: A Romance of the Old Niagara Frontier.” published 1925 and a free-lance Canadian writer who also lived next door to King in Toronto. King had one child, Charmaine King (1925 – 2007) a successful Canadian stage and screen actress and wife of Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent (1930 – ). I believe Reeves a young adolescent served overseas most likely under the Canadian branch of the St. John Ambulance Canada who were mainly responsible for the bulk of the Canadian overseas VADs during WWI. She probably did visit Paris most likely in 1919 where her “shoes” were most likely bought. Given the combination of the cynically viewed Geneva Disarmament Talks 1932 – 1933 plus, the depths of human suffering and misery reached in the Great Depression’s years 1933-1934, the rise of Hitler to power in Germany in 1933 and concurrent swell of anti-war pacifism and isolationism sweeping especially the former Allied states her poem is indeed poignant when compared to the glorious sacrificial verses employed especially during the conflict. Moreover, a Canadian feminine inter-war voice of a most likely actual overseas participant is atypical in looking back and directly reflecting with sadness on the sheer futility of the sacrifices of so many young men’s lives. It is also quite possible that King visited the actual battlefields of the Western Front as such tourism was fairly popular generally and not just for immediate family members who had loved ones buried overseas.

“The Survivor”

In memory to-night I’m on Flanders’ front
Where poppies, blood-red, swayed
To the guns, and the drums, and the marching feet
of a million men — betrayed!
And I’m talking once more with old comrades — pals
Whose bodies have long been dust.
How firm was their faith that war would end!
Great God! — was it just — was it just?

Brief was their span, but their day’s dying sun
Left haloes of glory anon;
‘Midst unfurling flags, and screeching of shells
Their brave young souls marched on.
And now, though but half-way along life’s rough road,
I feel the cruel pressure of years,
For my youth went out with the old brigade
On that futile tide of tears.

And while their blithe spirits are hov’ring to-night
Over old familiar heaths,
Where, entangled and gassed in a hell of mud,
They died a thousand deaths.
I thank God they’re beyond the maddening truth
That War makes man its fool,
And will stalk abroad o’er a prostrate world
Till sovereign Love shall rule!

Her story’s focus on her wartime purchased French shoes is well worth quoting at length not only for its writing but in sharp contrasts to all the military/war impedimenta and war souvenirs that we typically associate with the war’s artifacts, viz.:

(page 9)

“My old shoes! Poor, shabby, inanimate things — what memories you revive! Your uppers are scuffed, your heels run down, and your buttons long gone, but I vowed I would always keep you, and I have! for did you not share the gladdest and saddest adventures of my youth? And were shoes ever so kind to tired, travel-worn feet?

When I first glimpsed you — black velvet, dainty and impractical — reposing gracefully in that shop window in the Rue de l’Arcade in Paris that glorious June day, I knew you were meant for me.

(p. 10 )

My English oxfords [ sic ] suddenly seemed to pinch my feet. I went into the shop, and in five minutes possessed you for fifty francs.

When I decided to wear you, the salesgirl gasped, “But no, M’mselle, they are velvet — for the soiree!”

I remember how emphatically I answered, “These shoes are for all occasions! I’m tired to death of low heels. For the duration of the war, working as a V.A.D. I’ve had to wear brogues and tweeds and felt hats, and I’m heartily sick of it all! This is my first visit to Paris, and I’m going to teeter ’round on those shoes, and enjoy it.” I walked out of the place feeling like a Parisian.

Your luxurious velvet softness caressed my weary feet, and a new gay frivolity, such as I had not felt since 1914, filled my whole being. You made me want to find music, dancing and laughter.

(p. 11)

Those first smudges that marred your sleek blackness were from the army boots of my dancing partners at that queer little place in Montre Martre — “The Red Mill” — As I look at you now I imagine I can hear the strains of that French orchestra, and the harsh laughter of disillusioned youth, as they drank and danced in that overcrowded cabaret, in a feeble effort to forget the war. Forget — did I say? No, that could never be. Always they will carry in the depths of their hearts the memory like a hideous scar, and all their experiences in life will be tempered by their shaken faith. Others whom the war did not touch will think them hard and embittered, and without illusions, a generation old before their time. No, they could not, if they would, forget.

When I sat still and quite with you tucked under my chair, a young captain who had been through Purgatory, was

(p. 12)

recounting how bravely someone dear to me had died — leading his men. And the next moment we were on the floor dancing, laughing and singing in chorus, “Mademoiselle from Armentierres . . . ” — One had to be gay. It was part of the price for winning the war.

. . . .

(p. 21)

Precious old shoes! Now I shall roll you in your tissue wrappings and place you back in my box of souvenirs where I shall always keep you. You have the power to bring laughter and tears to my eyes. I think when I am old, and the world has passed me by, I shall sometimes steal up to the store room, and hold you close to my heart — and live again the historical scenes of my youth.”

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Francais sil’vous plait!

Bonjour! I will in 2017 be posting French-Canadian poets’ relevant war related poems in the French language and ideally with at least adequate English translations of same!

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Great news for 2017!

Great news for 2017! Amongst other plans I will in 2017 be cross-referencing select poems that appear in this blog on YouTube with yours truly reciting such verses! You will thus be able to not only view but hear these poems as well. Thanks everyone for your consideration and support. Please feel free to follow this blog.

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A post-war maternal muse

“Armistice /
The Woman Speaks /

Oh, Death, how kind to bid him rest!
Only his spirit stirs against my breast;
So strong he was that day and brave and gay,
Singing and swinging his sword,
Running to action like a child at play,
Peace, be still!
He must not hear my anguished cry;
Only an old sweet song,
A lullaby.”

[ sgd. ] B. M. K.

This brief but poignant plus verse was published in “ECHOES: The Official Organ Of The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire” Issue No. 87, December, 1921, page 53.
The I.O.D.E. was by far the most prominent woman’s war and post-war support group for soldiers, ex-soldiers, returned soldiers and veterans of World War I Canada. The I.O.D.E. sponsored a massive long-term and diverse War Memorial program from 1919 onwards that included scholarships or bursaries to family members of such Canadian war participants, flag presentations, war memorial or monument funding, war memorial or monument unveilings/inaugurations, school lectures/presentations, Canadian artworks (including famously reproductions of official Canadian War Artworks from WWI), etc….

This short verse is interesting socially as overtly manifesting the bereaved immediate family member’s sorrows in contrast to war-time “hero’s death glorification” verses. During the war several I.O.D.E. members penned verses written specifically for their died in the war male relatives in contrast to B. M. K.’s real emotional wallop of loosing her own flesh and blood. How women for such a long period of unanticipated time (several years instead of the few months initially expected in the summer of 1914) coped with such highly stressful life occurrences has never been properly researched. Without question this aspect of the war’s social history encompasses what we now call “secondary trauma.” Even the final word: “lullaby” is symbolic of pathetic family loss of those who have passed on far too young.

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