Happy Birthday Eleanor Farjeon

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Born this day in 1881 Farjeon is best known as a childrens writer.  She is also the author of the Hymn “Morning Has Broken” set to an old Gaelic air, which was made famous by Cat Stevens, in 1971, six years after Eleanor passed away.

But she saw the men march off to war more than once and this is a very adult poem I give you.  Eleanor was good friends with the poet Edward Thomas who died in 1917 at Arras, and remained a lifelong friend of his widow, Helen, publishing their correspondence in 1958.

 

Now that You Too Must Shortly Go; by Eleanor Farjeon

Now that you too must shortly go the way
which in these bloodshot years uncounted men
have gone in vanishing armies day by day,
and in their numbers will not come again:

I must not strain the moments of our meeting
striving for each look, each accent, not to miss,
or question of our parting and our greeting,
is this the last of all? is this—or this?

Last sight of all it may be with these eyes,
last touch, last hearing, since eyes, hands, and ears,
even serving love, are our mortalities,
and cling to what they own in mortal fears:—
But oh, let end what will, I hold you fast
by immortal love, which has no first or last.

Truth or Fiction?

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Fray Bentos is one of the most important port cities in Uruguay.  The name is a Spanish version of “Friar Benedict” a local mendicant who lived in the area.  In the 19th Century Uruguay was the Beef Capital of the world.  Beef exporting made Uruguay a boom economy.  Fray Bentos was perfectly positioned to capitalise on its position as a harbour on the Rio Negro, and the good times rolled.

In the mid 19th Century  a German Chemist named Justus von Liebig perfected a process for extracting flavour from meat.  He invented the OXO cube.  His company opened a plant in Fray Bentos to make the meat extract product.  Over the years they expanded into tinned corned beef under the Fray Bentos brand.

When the British Army included Fray Bentos tinned meats in their ration packs in the Boer Wars and subsequently in WW1 the brand became a household name.  The company flourished during WW2.  After that war they moved upmarket and released the round tinned oven ready puff pastry pies in the photo above.  As a child I remember cooking one of these in a clay oven on a boyscout camp in County Wicklow.

In the 1960s the brand was damaged by an outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen which was traced back to the Rio Negro.  The company was cooling their tinned meats in river water contaminated by excrement.  Since then the brand has gone largely downhill.  It is associated with working class diets, red meat and saturated fats.  The products have traded between food companies ever since.

Then Game of Thrones arrived on the scene.  G.R.R. Martin is a fan of history and I suspect he has delved into ancient greek history and myths.  There are many myths in the Greek Pantheon of parents eating children, but my favourite comes from Herodotus.  It is related as true history.

King Astyages of the Medes had a dream about his daughter, Mandané, where a flood of water flowed from her that drowned his capital. He feared her child, Cyrus, would overthrow him. So he sent his general Harpagus to slay the child.

Harpagus gave the baby to a shepherd, Mitradates, replacing the child with the stillborn corpse taken from the shepherds wife, which he showed to the King.

Astyagus found out many years later that Cyrus was alive. The King invited Harpagus to a banquet. At the conclusion of the feast Harpagus was asked if he had enjoyed his meal. Astyagus then asked that Harpagus be shown the head and feet of the beast he had eaten, a tradition of the country for truly excellent food. When the basket was brought Harpagus saw that he had eaten his own son.

Fast forward to Game of Thrones and Arya Stark’s revenge on Walder Frey for his actions at the red wedding.  It was one thing for Frey to kill his enemies, but a far worse crime to breach the laws of hospitality by killing them under his roof as they ate his food.

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Pie of Frey must be a breach of the Fray Bentos brandname.  The pie of the TV series itself is very similar to that served to the hapless Harpagus.  Inside the pie crust Walder Frey finds the digits of his missing sons.  You may need to use the pause button on the TV to capture the moment.

Truly there is nothing new under the sun!

Game of Thrones: Why Book Fans Love Wyman Manderly - IGN

Happy Birthday Isaac Rosenberg

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Isaac Rosenberg – Self Portrait – 1915

Born in Britain to a family of immigrant Lithuanian Jews, 25th November 1890.  In East London he gravitated towards the arts and was taken under the wing by Laurence Binyon and Edward Marsh.

He permanently suffered from bad health, bronchitis in particular, and emigrated to South Africa for the better air and warmer climate.  At the outbreak of WW1 he returned to Britain to do his duty and “get the trouble over” despite being anti-war.

Because of his small size, an outcome of poor health, he was assigned to a “Bantam” battalion which was a unit for men under the normal height.

He served for the entire war, despite bad health, until his death in action in 1918, producing some of the best poetry of the war.

As a side note the Tory Government of the UK today would not allow Rosenbergs family into the country if they have their way.  Priti Patel, herself a daughter of immigrants, wants to close the door.  England had no better servant than Isaac Rosenberg.

 

Break Of Day In The Trenches; by Isaac Rosenberg

The darkness crumbles away
it is the same old druid Time as ever,
only a live thing leaps my hand,
a queer sardonic rat,
as I pull the parapet’s poppy
to stick behind my ear.

Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
your cosmopolitan sympathies,
now you have touched this English hand
you will do the same to a German
soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
to cross the sleeping green between.

It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
less chanced than you for life,
bonds to the whims of murder,
sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
the torn fields of France.

What do you see in our eyes
at the shrieking iron and flame
hurled through still heavens?
What quaver -what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
drop, and are ever dropping;
but mine in my ear is safe,
just a little white with the dust.

Non!

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Charles De Gaulle, born Nov 22nd 1890.

A career soldier nicknamed the Big Asparagus by his classmates because he was so tall.  A veteran of two world wars he was frustrated at the British describing them as too slow.  Undoubtedly brave he was wounded a number of times and at Verdun in WW1 he was bayonetted in the leg whilst reeling from a shell blast and was captured by the Germans, the only member of his unit to survive.  He spent the latter half of the war as a prisoner despite 5 attempts to escape.

He rose into the world of politics by WW2 and as leader of the Free French he was sentenced as a criminal by the Vichy French Government.  He held a difficult position in London.  The French offices were filled with British spies, the phones were tapped.  When his aircraft was sabotaged and he almost died the British blamed the Germans.  De Gaulle blamed the British.

When the European Community was founded in 1957 the UK elected to go their own way.  They joined the EFTA instead.  As the 1950’s progressed and the Continental Europeans experienced economic expansion the British regretted their mistake.  They applied to join in 1963.

Famously and very publicly De Gaulle said “Non!”

It was a field day for cartoonists!

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Between Poperinge and Ouderdom

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Busseboom, famous place, lies between Poperinge and Ouderdom.  Can’t place it?  How about if I say it lies in Flanders, north-west Belgium near the French border.  In World War 1 Busseboom was in the support area behind the Western Front and Ypres.

Perfect place for a concert party.  Edmund Blunden fought at Ypres, at the Somme and at Passchendaele.  His poetry was encouraged by Siegried Sassoon who seems to have been a great man for encouraging others to express their horror in verse.  Sassoon was the muse of the War Poets.

Blunden survived the war, physically, but the mental scars remained with him all his life.  He could never scrape off the sticky mud of Flanders Fields.  He went on to a successful career in writing and academia, and was nominated a number of times for a Nobel prize in literature.

October 31st has come and gone in 2019, one hundred years beyond the Great War.  What have we learned?  Brexit remains on the cards.  The British Parliament persists with the madness of departing from the European Union; the greatest source of peace in the history of mankind.  The British people want to go back to the good old days when you could kick a man to death in a dark tunnel beneath the carnage of the Western Front.  In doing so they dishonour the memories of Blunden, Sassoon, Brooke, Graves and Owen.

Happy Birthday Edmund Blunden, born November 1st, 1896.

Concert Party: Busseboom ; by Edmund Blunden

The stage was set, the house was packed,
the famous troop began;
our laughter thundered, act by act;
time light as sunbeams ran.

Dance sprang and spun and neared and fled,
jest chirped at gayest pitch,
rhythm dazzled, action sped
most comically rich.

With generals and lame privates both
such charms worked wonders, till
the show was over – lagging loth
we faced the sunset chill;

and standing on the sandy way,
with the cracked church peering past,
we heard another matinée,
we heard the maniac blast

of barrage south by Saint Eloi,
and the red lights flaming there
called madness: Come, my bonny boy,
and dance to the latest air.

To this new concert, white we stood;
cold certainty held our breath;
while men in tunnels below Larch Wood
were kicking men to death.

Europe’s first female engineer.

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Galway girl Alice Perry was the first woman in Europe to graduate with a degree in Engineering.

Born on this day in 1885 she graduated from Galway Queens College in 1906.  She replaced her father in his role as Galway County Surveyor, and remains the ONLY woman to work as a County Surveyor in Ireland.

Alice moved to Scotland where she met and married John (Bob) Shaw in 1916, coverting from Presbyterianism to Christian Science.

As a factory inspector in this time Perry enforced laws that protected the many women working in armaments and war industries who were handling some very dangerous substances and chemicals.

Bob Shaw died in WW1 on the Western Front only a year later.  Alice became interested in poetry in the early 1920’s.  She left her job in Glasgow and moved to Boston, the HQ of the Christian Science Foundation where she wrote and edited poetry.

Sadly there seems to be none of her poetry easily available online.  Some volumes of her poetry were donated to NUIG library.  Perhaps some poetry nut will transcribe a few of them onto the internet thingy and give me a link.

Galway University is suitably proud of their first in engineering and named their Engineering Centre the Alice Perry Building in 2017.  Now we need to see to the task of appointing the second woman in Ireland to the post of County Engineer.

Im Westen nichts Neues

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This is the cover of the novel that we had at home, the one I read.  The hand, the barbed wire and the butterfly make an image that has stuck in my memory.  Erich Maria Remarque, born Erich Paul Remark, on this day in 1898.

Remarque is remarkable for three main reasons.

  1.  He wrote of World War 1 from the German perspective.
  2. He wrote the defining novel about a war that is celebrated in reams of poetry.
  3. He began the tradition of war veterans writing about their own experience of war.

Novels about war were not new.  Stephen Crane wrote the Red Badge of Courage in 1893 and it tells of the US Civil War from the standpoint of an ordinary soldier.  It reads like a personal account, but Crane was a novelist, not a soldier.  He was born after the war and based his book on interviews with veterans of the war.

Remarque fought in WW1, and was wounded.  He became a teacher after the war and then wrote the novel in 1928.  In the novel he is particularly hard on teachers who instill mindless nationalism in their students.  Above all it is an anti-war novel.

The Nazis hated it.  Remarque was declared “unpatriotic” and his books were removed from German libraries and added to the bonfires.  He moved to live in Switzerland.  In Germany the facts of his military service were denied by the Third Reich and his citizenship was revoked.  He moved with his wife to the USA before the outbreak of the war and eventually became a US citizen in 1947.

His sister in Germany, Elfriede Scholz, was tried on a charge of undermining morale and was beheaded.  The court stated “Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach — you, however, will not escape us”.

Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting“. (3.42)