In Flanders fields the poppies grow
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.
So begins a poem written by Canadian physician John McCrae, who was a soldier in Belgium during the Great War. It was written after McCrae presided over the funeral of a close friend killed in the Battle of Ypres.
Tim and I began our trip to France with a purposeful detour to Belgium to visit the American Cemetery called Flanders Field. It is the only American World War I cemetery in Belgium, and it is relatively small with only four hundred or so graves. Like other American cemeteries in Europe, it is virtually pristine and quite moving. We will be seeing other such sites in France when we move to a town on the Marne River near a number of cemeteries and battlefields.
Is striking to see the tombstones of a number killed so close to the end of the hostilities on November 11, 1918, and worst of all to discover the markers of those struck down on the actual day. Had peace come five minutes earlier, would Col. Lieberman have lived and enjoyed his Belgian Croix de Guerre at home in New York? The armistice came too late for all of these young men and women. Also jarring is to see the fairly large number of crosses and stars of David reading “here rests in honored glory AN AMERICAN SOLDIER known but to God.”
The question always comes up in a World War I cemetery: Why? To what purpose did the deaths of some 116,000 American soldiers contribute, to what end did the deaths of nearly 20,000,000 people serve? One can think of the American Civil War as having a purpose, and so also with World War II. But World War I seems so pointless, a squabble among emperors who were also cousins—a quest for hegemony, but having no valid reason that I can think of.
On November 11, the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the fighting in the Great War, we at Emmanuel will mark the occasion with a service from the 1892 Book of Common Prayer and a reminder for people to take a moment to pray in our Peace Chapel dedicated to those who died in World War I. (We will also encourage people to look at the large plaque in the narthex naming the men—and one woman—of the parish who fought in that war.)
And we will try to wrestle with why in 2018 “the larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below”?