IN FLANDERS FIELDS
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.
NOS CAMPOS DE FLANDRES
Nos campos de Flandres
Somos os mortos... Ainda há
poucos dias, vivos,
Continuai a lutar contra o
Tradução de ABGAR RENAULT
John McCrae, a member of the First Canadian contingent, wrote this poem in Ypres (Belgium) to let out his anger after one of his closest friend died in the war. It took him only about twenty minutes to write the fifteen lines of verse. A fellow officer sent it to two newspapers in England. One, The Spectator, rejected it, and another, Punch, published it for the first time on December 8, 1915. McCrae later died in France on January 28, 1918, after four years of service on the Western Front
Como é sabido, Portugal participou na 1.a Grande Guerra com um Corpo Expedicionário de cerca de 20 000 homens que actuou no cenário da Flandres. Morreram em combate uns 8 000 homens, muitos dos quais na tristemente célebre Batalha de La Lys, em 9 de Abril de 1918.
Merece uma visita o Cemitério Militar Português, referido com duas fotografias neste site, onde estão identificadas 2000 campas. Para lá chegar sai-se do ring de Lille para a estrada N 41 em direcção a Béthune e, em La Bassée, desvia-se para a D 947 em direcção a Estaires. Meia dúzia de quilómetros adiante, encontra-se o cemitério no local designado La Bombe, da comuna de Neuve Chapelle. Felizmente, as campas foram já limpas depois de tirada a foto que encontra no site.
A seguir, dê um salto a La Couture, onde, junto da Igreja, se encontra um monumento aos militares portugueses que ali pereceram.
The horror in Flanders fields
By Stephen W. Sears, 7/21/2002
A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918 - Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front
By Winston Groom
Atlantic Monthly, 276 pp., illustrated, $27.50
''It might seem surprising, even odd to some,'' writes Winston Groom, ''that since I am chiefly known as the author of Forrest Gump, and an American, that I would undertake to write a story about the fighting in Flanders.'' Actually not so surprising. Groom also left fiction for the field of military history with his previous book, ''Shrouds of Glory,'' about the Civil War's Nashville campaign. That book was inspired by his finding of an attic cache of his great-grandfather's Civil War papers. His inspiration for this venture into World War I, he tells us, came some years ago with the discovery of his grandfather's copy of an old Michelin Guide to the Ypres battlefield.
Groom is ambitious in intent but modest in presentation. Rather than a lengthy annotated monograph, this is a storyteller's narrative of handy size. In fewer than 300 pages, in what is in essence a primer for an American audience, he treats this singular four-year series of campaigns as a metaphor for the Great War (as it was once called). ''It was in this small confine of Belgium from 1914 to 1918,'' he writes, ''that more than a million soldiers were shot, bayoneted, bludgeoned, bombed, grenaded, gassed, incinerated by flamethrowers, drowned in shell craters, smothered by caved-in trenches, obliterated by underground mines, or, more often than not, blown to pieces by artillery shells.''
The Ypres Salient would become the grave site of an entire generation of British and Commonwealth soldiers, making it perhaps the symbolical horror story of a horrific war. And it is these soldiers whose story is told in ''A Storm in Flanders'' - not the story of the French, or of the Americans, and not very much the story of the Germans beyond their role as enemy. ''While Americans have largely forgotten the First World War, the British nation dwells on it - some say they are obsessed by it,'' Groom observes. Even today tour buses filled with English men and women crisscross the Flanders battlefields; he draws an apt comparison to the Gettysburg battlefield in this country.
Ypres in 1914 was a small, quaint medieval city, once the center of Europe's cloth trade, graced by the cathedral of St. Martin and the magnificent Cloth Hall, completed in 1260. (This is said in the past tense. The Ypres of 1914 was rubble by 1918.) It lay in Belgium's coastal West Flanders, and the outbreak of war found it in the path of the Germans' drive toward the sea. This proved to be miserable country to fight in. It appeared to be afloat; the water table was only a couple of feet below the surface, and it seemed to rain almost every day. To Ypres's east lay a series of ridges, and the story of the next four years might be compressed into one endless, desperate fight for the high ground.
The British Expeditionary Force fought in the Ypres Salient from first to last, and its story is Groom's centerpiece. First Ypres, in the fall of 1914, was supposed to see the BEF pushed into the sea. But in the way stood the British regular army. It was greatly outnumbered but thoroughly professional, with famous elite regiments like the Black Watch, the Gordon Highlanders, and a score more. In what is described as ''a fit of Wagnerian frenzy,'' the German Fourth Army, composed largely of student reservists, hurled itself against the regulars and was shattered. The salient held. The Germans woefully termed it the ''Massacre of the Innocents.'' In their turn, the ''Old Contemptibles'' of the BEF were decimated. The two armies now dug in and waited for new conscripts in their millions to refill the ranks.
Second Ypres, in spring 1915, was marked by a new horror under the sun: The Germans unleashed chlorine gas against the salient's defenders. This gained them some 2 miles, but they were so surprised by their success that they were unprepared to exploit it. ''Hugely outnumbered,'' writes Groom, ''the Canadian troops in support and in reserve and those in rest, too, were rushed up to plug the gap the Germans had made. This they did magnificently.'' It was the first of numerous ''saves'' by Commonwealth troops.
The armies had by now settled into the grim pattern of trench warfare we associate with the First World War, and Groom is very good at describing the constant terrors of this species of warfare. These terrors were compounded at Ypres by water - water falling endlessly from the sky above, water welling up endlessly from the earth below. Between battles there was the everyday ''wastage'' in the trenches, sometimes 1,000 men a day. Then there was the smell of this warfare: ''What people most remembered about the Salient was the smell, the ever-present odor of rotting humans, horses, mules, rats, and food mixed with the stench of excrement, lingering poison gases, the repulsive aroma of quicklime used to decompose the dead, and the acrid stink of high-explosive artillery shells.'' Such terms as ''trenchfoot'' and ''shell shock'' had to be coined.
The Third Battle of Ypres, in 1917, was a seemingly endless series of battles, put under this rubric for convenience. It witnessed a new level of horrors. Mustard gas, deadliest of the poison gases, and flamethrowers were introduced by the Germans. British engineers perfected the technique of mining. With his fine eye for detail, Groom relates the story of Lieutenant Geoffrey Cassels and his company of Welsh miners. Ordered to tunnel under the German works and plant a mine, Cassels ignored the army's gunpowder and requisitioned 3,500 pounds of ammonal, a superior explosive used back in the Welsh mines. His requisition kicked around a puzzled headquarters for a time, and somehow ended up at the Royal Army Medical Corps. Back came the reply: ''Ammonol [sic] is a compound drug extensively used in America as a sensual sedative in cases of abnormal sexual excitement.'' No doubt the Quartermaster Corps wondered about the need for this by a company of Welsh miners, especially 3,500 pounds of it. But in due course it was all straightened out, and ammonal became standard issue for the British mining efforts.
Third Ypres is best remembered, in Britain and in the British Army, for the Battle of Passchendaele. This village east of Ypres was the target set by Douglas Haig for his implacable effort to turn the Germans' flank and finally break the Western Front stalemate. Passchendaele defies rational description, simply because it was utterly irrational. Groom applies to it three words - ''mud,'' ''gunfire,'' and ''rain,'' used in any sequence. It is hard to imagine the literature of war, any war of any period, containing anything worse than Passchendaele.
At the close of the battle - which restored the salient back to about where it was in 1914 - Haig's chief of staff visited the battlefield for the first time. It was, writes Groom, ''an almost indescribable sea of mud littered with the bloated, rotten carcasses of artillery horses, smashed guns and wagons, and other detritus of war.'' Seeing this, the staff man blurted out, ''Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?''
His guide, just back from the fighting, said simply, ''It's worse further on up.''
Stephen W. Sears is the author of ''Chancellorsville'' and ''Controversies & Commanders.'' His history of the Gettysburg campaign will be published next year.
This story ran on page D5 of the Boston Globe on 7/21/2002.