If Ye Break Faith

This blog is dedicated to the promotion of educating about the Canadian experience of World War One. To discover who we are as a nation in the 21st Century, we must understand our past.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

We Shall Not Sleep

This blog will now be updated twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays.  While the purpose is stille to promote the "If Ye Break Faith" project (about which more here), the Monday post will have updates directly related to the project, and the Thursday post will be short essays pertaining to Canada in the First World War.  Support to the initial volume can be made through the PayPal "Donate" button below, at IndieGoGo, by joining the Facebook Page,  by following the twitter feed @ifyebreakfaith or this blog itself.  Comments and questions can be directed here.

I have been thinking a great deal about the four words with which I have given my project its name, the man who wrote them and the conditions under which they were written.  Also, what hasn't slipped my attention is the very fitting nature that Lt. Col McCrae will at some point be given a tribute through the work titled from his famous poem as he died on active service in 1918.

Most anybody who attended primary school in Canada knows some details about him and the lines he wrote which have become a touchstone for remembering those that fell in the Great War.

As a surgeon, McCrae would have been familiar with disease, suffering and death that even in civil practice would have benn beyond our understanding in this advanced age.  It can not be expected that even a doctor of his experience could have been prepared for the volume and type of wounds he was to encounter at his aid post during the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915.  The nature of his work would place him well behind the firing line, the place known as the "forward edge of battle", but his post would have been close enough to the artillery to hear and feel the blast of outgoing shells and to smell the heavy and sweetly metallic scent of carbon and burnt cordite from the big guns.  This smell would have mixed with those of his patients wounds, sickly fecal reeks of exposed intestines, the rusty wiff of blood and perhaps a faint chenical tingle of chlorine gas that was dissapating through a strong westerly breeze.

Operating on several patients as quickly as possible, he would have kept his hands as clean as possible, but the iron in blood stains fast so that his fingers would be blotted with maroon and probably caked under his nails.  He worked solidly as men were brought to his care, more perhaps than he was prepared or expected to treat at any one time, but only taking a short break when word was passed to him that a friend had been killed in the fighting.  It was during this time he took to himself that he composed "In Flanders Fields" to express the grief he felt by the loss of his companion and was to become a fitting memorial to all who died in the war.  That is the idea that has stuck with me, that a man such as McCrae, indoctrinated as a medical professional to accept death on a level others might find complaicent, to carry on his duty surrounded by it, but to be overcome by the news of one individual passing-putting the suffering around him to a personal level.

Such as it was for all the friends and families who lost someone in the war.  Deaths of thousands is a terrible thing, generally understood as such but fails to register until it is directly tied to someone close.  This is where this project sets its aim in that by allowing the reader to know these people on as personal a level as possible, their loss is much more easily quantifiable, the cost of war reduced from an abstract number to a personal level and perhaps a reason to consider why we as a people go to war at all.

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