Remembering. It's time to remember.
Last weekend Rick and I went to see John McCutcheon, a wonderful singer/songwriter, who was appearing locally. We'd seen him once before and were eager to return. As always, he did not disappoint! (The only disappointing thing was the very large crowd -- that was good -- almost all of whom were "of an age." The only place you see more gray hair is at the symphony. What will happen to music like this if no one under 50 ever hears it?!)
McCutcheon wrote (with Tom Paxton) the song "Ukranian Now," which you may well have heard or seen about seven or eight months ago as the war in Ukraine captured our hearts and souls. It deserves a replay here.
In his repertoire, he included one of my favorites, which felt timely given that Veterans Day/Remembrance Day is this week, a time to remember and honor the service of those who have served in the military. And the thought of Remembrance Day, as it is called in the UK, brings back a wonderful memory. I've written about it before -- but it deserves a revisit before you hear my favorite John McCutcheon song. (And if you remember this story from the past, just skip down to the song. It's a treasure.)
Rick and I were in England in 2018, staying at Morgan's Forge, a wonderful home in Midford, a few miles outside of Bath. Walk down the hill and you arrive at the pub and the bus stop. Walk to the left and you head toward the village of Monkton Combe.
It was one of those glorious late October days when the weather was crisp. As we headed toward Monkton Combe, leaves crunched under our feet and we were surrounded by the polka-dot vision of grazing sheep on one side and a castle on the other.
As we walked this path on the most glorious of October days, we headed toward a country church with an adjacent graveyard. As we approached we could see a bright spot of red marking one of the graves.
This son of a stonemason was drafted into the British Army two years into World War I and had a bumpy time in his early years, becoming demoted after a fist fight with a fellow soldier. He arrived in France in 1917 and fought at the Battle of Passchendaele, where he was injured and returned to England. He wrote:
When the war ended, I don't know if I was more relieved that we'd won or that I didn't have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle—thousands and thousands of young lives were lost... We've had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it's a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?"
Harry Patch received eight medals for his service and after decades of not speaking about the war later shared his story in British documentaries. He became an advocate for preserving sacred battlefield land in France and recognized that life on both sides was lost and should be honored.
It was called "The War to End All Wars." But we all know that didn't happen. In his later years Harry Patch was an advocate of peace and involved with the British Poppy Appeal and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.