On our first winter in Florida, two years ago, Elsie and I started a writing group. This year nine people have been attending our Weekly, Friday morning meeting. A few weeks ago we decided to put the group's best writing together and make a booklet-- just for the writing group members. The attached article is one of my favorite articles even though it wasn't written for one of the Writings Groups weekly stories. It was written earlier than that. The article was at my fingertips yesterday. Although many things are more modern today, the sentiments of the soldierr, their family, and loved ones are very much the same today.
I've heard through the grapevine that The Maine winter is still with you.
Hang in there.
On April 6, 1917 the USA entered World War I by declaring war on Germany. “The war to end all wars” had been raging in Europe since 1914. The words written by George M. Cohen: “We’re going over, --and we won’t be back, ‘til it’s over,--over there,” were in his famous song: OVER THERE. Mr. Cohen was awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor (in 1941) for inspiring the people of the USA with his patriotic songs.
Very soon after the USA entered World War I, young men volunteered or were drafted into military service. Many women also served their country during that war. Can you remember anyone singing: She’s The Rose of No Man’s Land, and “ Long-Long Trail?” Those songs, along with; It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, K-K-K- Katy, and Oh How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning; were the songs I learned in the 1940’s. My parents were always singing the songs that were popular more than twenty years earlier when they were teenagers. A very meaningful song to them was: Keep the Home Fires Burning. They were at the age when their brothers, uncles, and friends, went to war. The music by Ivor Novello and words by Lena Ford became very sentimental to the families of soldiers serving their country in Europe. The “war to end all wars” fell short of its goal. Because many people in America have recently sent family members off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are keeping the home fires burning; many words to that old song are especially meaningful to them. (Note: In my travels I am surprised that many people my age are nor familiar with this song. My mother sang it to me almost every day)
KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING
They were summoned from the hillside
They were called in from the glen
And their country found them ready
At the stirring call for men.
Let no tears add to their hardships
As the soldiers pass along,
And although your heart is breaking
Make it sing this cheery song:
Keep the home fires burning,
While your hearts are yearning,
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home.
There’s a silver lining
Through the dark clouds shining
Turn the dark cloud inside out
‘Til the boys come home.
Many people that went “Over There” stayed over there. Others returned wounded, ill, and with a lifetime of bad memories. Today there are numerous ways of learning about the events that happened in or near the trenches in Europe during World War I. The rest of this article will mention events that happened over here that were incidental to “The Great War”.
On a visit to Santa Ana, California, in the late 1950’s I learned why there were small statues of an old man with long hair and a beard in all of the gift stores: Soon after the USA entered World War I, a young man in Santa Ana told his dad that he was joining the Army. His dad did not want his son to volunteer to go to war but the young man enlisted. He left home with the words: “ Everything will be o-k Dad. It won’t be long before you’ll see me walking down the road, and I’ll be home again.” A few days after the war ended the young man’s Dad started standing at the end of his driveway watching for his son to return. Days, weeks, months, and years passed. Each morning the man arrived at his spot and spent the day watching and waiting. He became a landmark in that city. Soon after the man passed away the city placed a life-size statue in the spot where the Old Man stood for so many years waiting for his son to return from World War I.
While growing up in Perry most of the men in town over age 50 had called the trenches in France; “home,” during World War I. One of these men was Mr. Emery Foss. His wife was a good Christian mother and his children, my friends, added singing, music and enthusiasm at school and in the neighborhood. Mr. Foss never seemed happy. He yelled at his horse, talked to his kids in a loud gruff voice, and often had severe coughing spells. Before my teenage years I often made fun of him and called him “Old Man Foss!” While we were playing baseball one day, his son, Merton Foss, told me the following story: “Daddy was gassed with chlorine in World War I. He was a teamster and was trained to put the gas mask on his mule before putting on his own mask! That happened more than thirty years ago and his coughing spells are getting worse!” Since that day I have continued to gain respect for veterans.
Halifax Nova Scotia was a very busy seaport during World War I. That is why the French Ship, MOUNT BLANK loaded with ammunition, and the Norwegian cargo ship, IMO, were maneuvering in the harbor on the morning of December 6, 1917. The two ships collided, resulting in the world’s largest explosion until the first atomic bomb was tested in 1945. The city of Halifax was destroyed and before the day ended a blizzard hit the area. (An interesting book: Shattered City, by Janet F. Kitz, (1989) contains details along with several pictures and first person accounts of that disaster.
As Elsie and I were attending a ceremony as our daughter was graduating from the University Of Maine School of Nursing, (at Orono, 1993) a World War I story caused the audience to react with sadness and silence. One of the graduating nurses responded to “The Challenge Speech to The Nurses,” by one of the Professors. In her speech the young lady included a personal memory with the words: “You cannot easily forget being in a hospital room at two o’clock in the morning when the elderly lady in bed knows she is dying, and is happy about it -- because she believes that she will soon be with her husband who died in France in 1917.”
That lady kept the home fires burning for more than 76 years. Today there are people in many families that are keeping the home fires burning. May God bless them, the Troops, and the USA.
for Skillin's Greenhouses
March 7, 2008