In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

by / / 58 posts

You don’t have to be in Flanders very long before you start to breathe in the history of the area. Horrible things have happened in the fields across Northern France and Belgium, like the Battle of Waterloo and the Battle of the Bulge. These are the kinds of things that hang in the air for centuries; they seep into your blood.

There is a famous poem written by John McCrae that is worth reading. Its also been put to music by my favorite band, Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

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

Take a moment to remember the fallen with us.

// Folklore // The Hardmen

  1. @Fränk; +1………

  2. By “here”, I mean the general area, I’m not intending to state the battles happened in Flanders themselves. The point is there have been some horrible, horrible things that have happened in the area, and the people who died in those battles, wherever they were, were often from Vlaanderen and so forth.

    It touches you in your very spirit. But thanks for the clarification on the specific geographic areas. That stuff is taken understandably seriously around here. The borders between Waloonia and Vlaanderen are more carefully observed than those between Belgium and France!

  3. Keepers & Followers – my jealously has simply turned into wishing I was there, but getting a big kick out of experiencing some of it via your words & photos. Enjoy the week!

    Battle fields are powerful places. I finally visited Gettysburg, which I’ve been through often, but never stopped. To consider what took place not long ago can put any current life situations in a new perspective.

    Spending two full months in Prague last spring gave me an even deeper appreciation for the power of history…and I’m a historian! European history makes U.S. history seem so new. And then again, what happened in the streets of Prague in 1989 is quite recent.

    Good one, Frank!

  4. As a Canadian, I am honoured that Frank has choosen LCol McCrae’s poem. Well, maybe it goes without saying, with Frank’s strong ties to his ancestral homeland, the Low Countries. And all of our reverence for region and its long history in our choosen sport. Just as hockey is for Canada, cycling is for France and Flanders.

    Quick sidebar before I continue, when I graduated from the school of hard knocks (the Princess Patrica’s Canadian Light Infantry Battle School) in 1988, I was in Korea Platoon. Our brother platoon on grad parade that day was France & Flanders Platoon. The PPCLI Battle School continues to name basic infantry training platoons after our battle honours. Later on in my career as a Lt in 2001, I commanded The Gully Platoon during thier basic course.

    Here is the CBC’s rendition…

    To be honest, as a soldier & war vet, I actually have mixed feelings towards “In Flanders Fields. It stands and was used as a rally cry during the war. And it is read/recited every year on Remembrance Day, so I hear it often. I have always thought that Lemmy Kilmister’s “1916” would make a more poignant message.

  5. @Ron

  6. +1, well said Fronk.

    Really hits home to me as Lt McCrae was a Battlefield Doc and, if I remember correctly, he died during the war.

    What they lived through day after day in both WWI and WWII is unimaginable to me. I experienced only a few days of true conflict during my three deployments and it shakes you to the core but to have to live through it day after day, never knowing when it will end, or if you will live to see the end, and being in the combat zone for “the duration”, not just 6 months or 10 months, just cannot wrap my mind around it.

  7. @Dan_R
    Wow. I had never heard “1916” before. Very powerful. Reminds me of the saying that the only ones who “love” war or want war are those that have never experienced war.

  8. @Buck Rogers

    @Dan_R
    Wow. I had never heard “1916”³ before. Very powerful. Reminds me of the saying that the only ones who “love” war or want war are those that have never experienced war.

    Yes, well put. And I couldn’t imagine 4 or 5 years of surviving in a war zone. 6-7 months at a time is more than enough for this cowboy.

    Not to lower the significance, but I thought of the many wars I have had with v-brakes when reading that…especially cheap brakes. Drive me nuts.

  9. This was written by Eric Bogle after a visit to cemeteries in Flanders and France. Strong stuff. To put things in perspective, more men were killed and wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme than were killed during the entire Vietnam war. Yet the war went on for almost 30 more months. The phrase “The war to end all wars” wasn’t a promise, but a phrase used to justify the ongoing slaughter.

    NO MAN’S LAND (THE GREEN FIELDS OF FRANCE)
    Eric Bogle

    Well how do you do, young Willie McBride,
    Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside
    And rest for a while ‘neath the warm summer sun
    I’ve been working all day and I’m nearly done.
    I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
    When you joined the dead heroes of nineteen-sixteen.
    I hope you died well and I hope you died clean
    Or Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene.

    Chorus :
    Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly,
    Did they sound the dead-march as they lowered you down.
    Did the bugles play the Last Post and chorus,
    Did the pipes play the ‘Flooers o’ the Forest’.

    And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
    In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined
    Although you died back there in nineteen-sixteen
    In that faithful heart are you ever nineteen
    Or are you a stranger without even a name
    Enclosed and forgotten behind the glass frame
    In a old photograph, torn and battered and stained
    And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame.

    The sun now it shines on the green fields of France
    The warm summer breeze makes the red poppies dance
    And look how the sun shines from under the clouds
    There’s no gas, no barbed wire, there’s no guns firing now
    But here in this graveyard it’s still no-man’s-land
    The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
    To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man
    To a whole generaation that were butchered and damned.

    Now young Willie McBride I can’t help but wonder why
    Do all those who lie here know why they died
    And did they believe when they answered the cause
    Did they really believe that this war would end wars
    Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
    The killing and dying was all done in vain
    For young Willie McBride it all happened again
    And again, and again, and again, and again.

  10. @Dan_R

    Not at all what I was expecting from “MotorHead” Lemmy. Really touching song. that part of the world has been bled over for centuries, it has to been an honor to ride there and suffer.

  11. @wiscot
    Yeah – if you ever get a chance to browse photos taken before/after (mainly after) the Somme, it is very sobering.

  12. Recently read Wade Davis’s Into the Silence, which placed the 1920s British Everest Expeditions against the backdrop of WWI — basically every man on those expeditions who was a veteran was impossibly lucky to have survived the war in good enough shape to head off to the Himalayas. And every time a new character is introduced, you get to read about the incredible horrors he went through in the trenches. Some of the place names I recognized as a fan of de Ronde and Paris-Roubaix, which gave me a new perspective on that part of the world.

  13. Hhhmmm, I wonder if the term “tour of Afghanistan” will ever mean anything positive…. No joking aside, those are some crappy roads!

    I think Bicycling did an article a few years ago on the Kabul Cycling Club adn I remember the guys wearing a lot of donated club gear from Edmonton.

  14. @Louutah
    Yeah, a great song. Definately not within the main-stream image of Motorhead.

  15. One of the best books I’ve ever read on the Great War. Really brings home the experience of the common soldier. The last chapters about post war attitudes are heartbreaking. General Sir Douglas Haig got a bonus of over one million pounds (in 1919 money!) Maybe it was based on how many lives he wasted . . .

    http://www.amazon.com/Deaths-Men-Soldiers-Penguin-History/dp/0140168222/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333391550&sr=1-1

    From a personal point of view, my paternal grandfather lost half an arm in WWI. In perspective, he was lucky. Everywhere you go in Scotland, from big city to village, there’s a war memorial and the number of names listed for both world wars, particularly the First, is shocking.

  16. In America, 100 years is a long time, and in Europe, 100 miles a long distance.

  17. Just for the historical record Frank, the Battle of the Bulge was much further south, in the Ardennes region.

    Where we were was prime WW1 trench warfare and some of the most notorious battlegrounds. Ypres was constantly fought over and Passchendaele in 1917 is where something like 500,000 men died or were seriously injured.

    One of the major WW1 memorials (to British and Commonwealth soldiers), the Menin Gate, is in Ieper (Ypres) just a few miles away, where the last post has been played every evening for 90 years (apart from when it was occupied in WW2).

    It is a truly sobering place, and just passing along the highway looking at signs is a constant reminder of the history and the horror.

    For me the very best thing to read on WW1 is All Quiet On The Western Front – it’s a relatively short and very human account of one (German) soldier. It’s fictional and will tell you nothing about the war, but a lot about war. A classic.

  18. Here’s one of the most brilliant and poignant bits of comedy writing ever. The whole Series 4 of Blackadder was superb and bittersweet: funny as hell about a subject that was/is quite the oposite.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IglUmgYGxLM

  19. @ChrisO
    @frank

    By “here”, I mean the general area, I’m not intending to state the battles happened in Flanders themselves. The point is there have been some horrible, horrible things that have happened in the area, and the people who died in those battles, wherever they were, were often from Vlaanderen and so forth.

    It touches you in your very spirit. But thanks for the clarification on the specific geographic areas. That stuff is taken understandably seriously around here. The borders between Waloonia and Vlaanderen are more carefully observed than those between Belgium and France!

    Don’t worry Fronk, i will cover this one!

  20. @eightzero

    In America, 100 years is a long time, and in Europe, 100 miles a long distance.

    I like this! Thanks for posting it!

  21. @ChrisO
    The Great War has left monuments all across the world… We have a flag pole along my club’s Sunday route commemorating the war dead from Santa Barbara… hardly anyone even notices it anymore.

    Remember…

    Looks like you guys are making the most of things.

  22. @Oli

    Exactly, I believe respect is what was intentioned.

  23. This discussion took on a more philosophical and somber/respectful turn than most. I found it to be quite enlightening. I am grateful that to the others who shared “1916” and “No Mans Land”. These gems would probably have escaped my notice otherwise. The most intersting thing about this group is that there are times when the bikes can move to the periphery and other topics spark discussion. That is why I come back frequently…

  24. Not particularly related to this article nor the Belgian fields, but a somewhat obscure 90’s WWII movie, A Midnight Clear, is worth a view. I’m sure there’s not a wait for it through your preferred movie provider.

  25. @wiscot
    Respect!

  26. It really is a pity at how the First World War gets so easily forgotten, when it was so fundamental in shaping the modern age. I spent three weeks while teaching High School World History explaining the break in western society that happens at the First World War.

  27. @Mason
    Come to Australia on April 25 – ANZAC Day. You will see that WWI is definitely not forgotten in this part of the world.

  28. I always find it sobering to think what went on in Flanders in WW1 when driving throught that area.

    On a trip back from the TdF in 2009 we stopped by at the Vimy Ridge memorial. Well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area.

  29. @Mason

    It really is a pity at how the First World War gets so easily forgotten, when it was so fundamental in shaping the modern age. I spent three weeks while teaching High School World History explaining the break in western society that happens at the First World War.

    Renoir’s “Grand Illusion” is an amazing French film that goes into the whole societal change that occurs at the time of WWI. Just a super film. Also, someone mentioned “All Quiet on the Western Front” which is trully a classic novel in all respects but the old 1930’s film of the same name is also outstanding.

  30. @936adl
    Indeed. I visited Vimy Ridge back in ’99 before a deployment. It’s quite a sobering place. Of course, when driving through northern France and Belgium you can’t throw a stone and not hit a Commonwealth or German cemetery. When I visited the American cemetery at Somme, the director told me an interesting piece of information…at least for US Forces in WWI. WWI American cemeteries are located on the battlefield in which Soldiers fought, where in WWII they were interred in temporary cemeteries then relocated to the large cemeteries that we know today.

    Here is a link to the ABMC web site. http://www.abmc.gov/home.php

  31. Great insight on WWI- It was supposedly the War to End All Wars… Except for all the wars that followed. Unimaginable hardship in that area for centuries. We should all settle our differences like hardmen… On the bike!

  32. @Marcus
    While in university I wrote an article on the ANZAC attempt to take Galliopli. One of the greatest quotes was from a young private, “the futility of it all.”

    WWI’s generation was one of great literary creativity. Maybe that’s why a group like the Velominati can respect as it does? Nes pas?

  33. @El Mateo
    Absolutely!

  34. @wiscot
    Wow. Very powerful.

  35. By the way, I’ve edited the article slightly to be more clear as to what region I was thinking of when I wrote this. Shoddy work, that.

  36. @frank
    That’s a tiny bit better, but if you’re going to the effort of editing your homage to the terrible toll of death in Flanders, surely it wouldn’t be much additional effort to mention as well (or instead) the actual battles that took place there?

    As others have already said, battles such as Ypres, Passchendaele, and the Somme have much more relevance to the area and the poem than Waterloo and the Ardennes campaigns do, and I think mentioning them would show much more respect than those in which blood wasn’t actually spilled in the area you’re writing about!

  37. @jimmy

    Nice one Jimmy.

  38. @Oli
    Its not the effort, but the clarification, really. There’s a difference between correcting a confusing statement and changing the message. If I changed the name of the battles, I feel I’d be taking something away from the great contributions made in the posts. That feels dishonest to me.

  39. @frank
    Lots of people will judge the article, not the comments. It’s not dishonest to own up to a mistake and correct it.

  40. @Oli
    I appreciate the input, but the article says now what I intended to say, and the community is adding the rest; for those people judging the article by the content and not the community, they are missing the point of Velominati. Cheers.

  41. @Oli

    Actually lots of people won’t judge at all.

  42. @Oli

    @frank
    Lots of people will judge the article, not the comments. It’s not dishonest to own up to a mistake and correct it.

    Yeah but that would make all the people who told Frank he was wrong look a bit silly… and Oli I would have thought you would be the last person to diminish the joy of correcting Frank ;-)

  43. whatcha all talking about??

  44. My great-grandfather went with General Pershing down to Mexico to find Pancho Villa, then off to Europe in WWI. He had amazing stories of adventure in Mexico. Not so much in Europe. He didn’t talk about it. His little brother lied about his age to get in the Army and fight. Once in, my great-grandfather went to his superiors to let them know his brother’s real age to keep him out of Europe–for very good reasons. I was an adult when they both died, so I got to know their histories a little bit.

    Also, as a graduate of the University of Texas, I spent a little time at the Winged Victory fountain at the end of the South Mall under the tower. It was dedicated to students and graduates lost in the “Great War”. All of their names are listed in bronze. It’s extraordinary to think the fountain was erected with the belief that we’d just fought in the war to end all wars–that there wouldn’t be another.

  45. @frank
    Fair enough, Frank. Sorry for being so damned dogmatic, but I just can’t help myself.

  46. Dogmatix, Oli? Non!

  47. Wanting to ante up valuable social media etiquette here and leave real comments whenever possible. And that being said, it is at times challenging to disentangle the many dizzying Velominati posts, especially while zoned out on hydrocodon-acetaminophen with a broken clavicle. Frank, Oli, you’re both right-minded and wrong-headed to a certain degree (I guess). And I don’t even know how you two started — what the Fuck!!

  48. @frank

    By “here”, I mean the general area, I’m not intending to state the battles happened in Flanders themselves. The point is there have been some horrible, horrible things that have happened in the area, and the people who died in those battles, wherever they were, were often from Vlaanderen and so forth.

    It touches you in your very spirit. But thanks for the clarification on the specific geographic areas. That stuff is taken understandably seriously around here. The borders between Waloonia and Vlaanderen are more carefully observed than those between Belgium and France!

    Ritte Van Vlaanderen (ritteracing.com) is in that area — it must be !! Right ??

  49. The articles title and introductory sentence indicate the subject as Flanders, the edits help some but the battles chosen as examples remain to confuse the subject. That said, The discussion that has followed is the kind that makes a long boring group ride enjoyable with interesting conversation. Image being knackered as shit in some nasty crosswind and the guy next to you in the echelon telling stories either of themselves or for-fathers surviving war. That would rally some Rule #5.

  50. Myself and the VMH were discussing the lasting legacy of the Great War while at Tyne Cot Cemetary last week. Very few if any survivors are still alive so we wondered how long governments will be willing to incur the cost of maintaining the memorials…and then we remembered that farmers are still ploughing up shells and other remanants of the war. It’s easy to forget that the locals have to live in the shadow of the Great War everyday and that is irrespective of the monumnents.

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