Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

On November 11, 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, World War I ended, but not before eight million plus people died.

Of that total 888,246 were British.

The British and Canadians call today, November 11, Remembrance Day.  We in the United States call it Veterans Day.

This is a breakdown of the  total death toll worldwide.

Just for one country - the number 888,246.  It is impossible to visualize this, or the total World War casualties, but the British found a way to help us.

In the dry moat of the Tower of London, 888,246 ceramic poppies were planted starting this summer, a sea of red, there since August but I (an American) did not see this on television until just recently.

My ancestry is not British but one of my uncles was a civilian casualty of World War I.

Although in this country we don't use the imagery of poppies in the same way as the inhabitants of the former British Empire do, I can appreciate the imagery.  It is so different than the way we in the States tend to commemorate the holiday.  We have parades, but so much (everything from "Veterans Day sales" to the more recent practice of retail stores giving vets discounts on Veterans day) seems to revolve around retail sales and not really honoring our veterans.

Lest we forgot, a poem that still gives me chills, years after I read it for the first time, written by a Canadian doctor, Lt. Colonel John McCrae, in 1915.  

Some feel the poem glorifies war but there is the first part of the poem to consider.

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.

And Lt. Colonel McCrae?  He died, in military service, before World War I ended, from complications of pneumonia.  But before he died, he had seen too much death.

Perhaps that is how we must visualize war - the story of human suffering, one person at a time.


  1. It's just after midday on the 11th day of the 11th month and I've watched the ceremony beside the Tower of London after two minutes silence across the nation. It's heartbreaking that so many young men lost their lives. My eyes fill as I think about their sacrifice.

  2. That poem is awesome. It's new to me. Thank you for sharing it. I think I'll save it to use with my students.

  3. This is such an amazing display! Ceramic poppies - of all things - the planning that had to go into that must have been mind-boggling.


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