Wednesday, 6 June 2007

IN THE SHADOW OF THE FLANDERS' POPPIES

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'In The Shadow of the Poppies'. © Copyright Magda Indigo


Raised surrounded by the remnants of war.
In the landscape, whether it be coastal or inland.
In the people, whether it be story or silence.

This delicate flower is part of my youth,
Bright red.

The child in me attracted,
Picking it to offer or cherish, only to find it extremely ephemeral.

The young woman I became,
Lesson learnt, loved running in those colourful fields,
Not enjoying the stains poppies left on a favourite dress.

The young mother I became,
Teaching her sons,
Trying to protect them from the disappointment of the fast wilting flower, the stains, the symbolism...

Now, I'm older and wiser,
More tolerant and more intolerant.

Now, I am back, they greet me, gently moving with the wind.

I just stand; take in the beauty with a smile around my lips,
And let the echoes of the past swirl behind my eyes.



I grew up in Flanders in the shadow of the poppies(1), remembrance of the wars never far away. Everywhere you go, there are graveyards, English, American, Canadian, Polish, South-African, Australian...
As a child, it is just part of the countryside, pretty, neat rows of stones and flowers.
Then, the age of awareness comes, you want to know and understand.
The adults'd rather not talk about it, their gaze becoming distant and full of sorrow and hidden, unspoken suffering (2).
I did the whole sad route of battlegrounds, still not discovering a hidden part which I discovered just now, because they were the 'enemy'.

(3) Somehow I'm only emotionally affected by poppies when I'm in Flanders. They stir very deep emotions and create a sweet melancholy, have done so for as far as I can remember. This time no different. Everywhere else I just enjoy them, it is such a happy flower.
I can feel it especially in this image, what I was trying to describe...
I'll let the flower tell you...

Established during World War I, the cemetery holds 3,233 wartime burials. In 1956, burials from many smaller surrounding cemeteries, were concentrated in Vladslo, and it now contains the remains of 25,644 soldiers from both wars.
Each stone bears the name of twenty soldiers, with just their name, rank, and date of death specified.

PART I. (4)
In 1990 I visit this place for the first time.
The silence at this cemetery is only disturbed by birdsong and rustling young leaves.
I read at the entrance, how towards the end of the war, there was chaos and no time for decent burial. That some years after the war, they were all gathered and put in this one cemetery.
As I walk further I see a few stones with some names and numbers on,

Wilhelm-20
Heinrich-17
Manfred-19,
I can't go on,
I lift my camera, it feels heavier than ever, I push the shutter, the familiar sound is startling.
I hear murmur and whisper, I look across, an older couple are bent over, trying to clear a name, she clutches her handbag, he holds on to his jacket, finally they put a small azalea down.
If they are the parents of one of the fallen youngsters, it will be the last time they come to visit, their final farewell.
I wait until they're gone, then I take this image, one plant for all of them...

Part II. (5)
EVEN THE POPPIES CRY: ONE GIANT variegated POPPY in my garden, larger than the biggest hands and burning like flames.
The second image: The Grieving Parents by Käthe Kollwitz at the WAR cemetery of Vladslo in Belgium.
Many of the German dead in Vladslo cemetery died between 16 and 31 October 1914 during those fearsome attacks on nearby Belgian positions during the ‘Battle of the Yser’. The dozens of flat marker stones, each containing a number of names and dates of death, give proof of that. However, Vladslo is perhaps the place on the Western Front where the everlasting impact of death in war on those at home is driven home to the visitor. At the other end of the cemetery from the entrance lodge stands Käthe Kollwitz’s tribute to her dead son of 1914, the statue known as ‘Die Eltern’ (‘The Parents’).

Käthe Kollwitz, a famous German artist, devised the statues as a tribute to her lost son. After his death she admitted to a friend: ‘There is in our lives a wound which will never heal. Nor should it’. The stone parents are shown kneeling facing the cemetery. The father clasps himself tightly while the mother hangs her head in grief. Käthe and her husband, Dr Karl Kollwitz, personally brought the statues to Belgium. Of their last visit to Peter Kollwitz’s grave and the statues, she wrote:

We went from the figures to Peter's grave, and everything was alive and wholly felt. I stood before the woman, looked at her – my own face – and I wept and stroked her cheeks. Karl stood close behind me – I did not even realize it. I heard him whisper, ‘Yes, yes’. How close we were to one another then!

Käthe Kollwitz, quoted at www.rogallery.com/Kollwitz/Kollwitz-bio.htm



Part III. (6)
I entered this cemetery, lying amidst the fields, a German cemetery. Grey concrete slabs, mossed over, some cracked, dirty, mostly no names now, erased by time and wind, just mass graves.
No flowers except this lone poppy, a random gesture of Nature.

Part IV. (7)
Nearby Poelkapelle and Langemark, not far from Ypres, my journey takes me to another German Cemetery, alongside a quiet country lane, that I passed hundreds of times during my childhood on my way to a great-aunt.
I knew all the other cemeteries, like St Julien, with the impressive statue of a Canadian soldier standing with bowed head, a landmark now.

Walking through an archway, this is what you see, cobblestones, a memorial slab with a bronze wreath, a huge field of green, a mass grave containing 25.000,surrounded by oak trees and overlooked by 4 bronze soldiers. In total there's about 45.000 buried here.
I do not stay very long, it is dark and feels cold.
I'm bewildered to see the poppy wreaths.
A party of English veterans came by and lay them there. A forgiving and noble gesture.
I leave, deeply touched by the whole experience.

PART V. (8)
Tyne Cot.
It was years since I last was here. I'm not a cemetery person, this outing just happened.
Near Ypres there are numerous war cemeteries from the different nations. A large part are British. One of the largest and most impressive is the Tyne Cot cemetery, which is situated to the south of the village of Passendale.
Here can be found a total of 11.856 graves : 8.901 British, 1.353 Australian, 966 Canadian, 519 from New-Zealand, 90 South-African, 14 from New Foundland, 6 from Guernsey, 2 from the British West-Indies, 1 French, 4 German and 101 graves for soldiers whose nationality could not be determined. (all united in death)

William- 22
John-18
Alastair- 20
Shamus- 17

I read this and I go numb, the breeze feels colder, the sun hotter, I smell the grass, freshly cut and neatly trimmed each grave ornated with flowers and plants, some I never saw before.
I stand in the middle, row upon row, beautiful new patterns each time I move, this is what I saw when I was a little girl, dancing at dad's hand, blissfully ignorant of the tragedy around me, mystified about the tears rolling down his cheeks.
I stand amidst the unreal silence.
The white grave stones are being cleaned, ready for summer.
They are not forgotten.


On June 6, 1944, a date known ever since as D-Day, a mighty armada crossed a narrow strip of sea, The Channel, from England to Normandy, France, and cracked the Nazi grip on western Europe.
At Omaha, steep cliffs favoured the defenders and the US Army suffered 2,500 casualties.
Of the 23,000 airborne troops, 15,500 were Americans and of these, 6,000 were killed or seriously wounded.
Over the next couple of days 156,215 troops were landed from sea and air, at a cost of some 10,300 casualties.

WE OWE OUR LIVES today to those who fell... (9)

Throughout history war has been the source of serious moral questions. Although many ancient nations and some more modern ones viewed war as noble, over the sweep of history, concerns about the morality of war have gradually increased. Today, war is generally seen as undesirable and, by some, morally problematic. At the same time, many view war, or at least the preparation and readiness and willingness to engage in war, as necessary for the defense of their country.
Pacifists believe that war is inherently immoral and that no war should ever be fought.

For me in war there are no winners, too much destruction, pain, loss and sadness on all sides...


If there is to be peace in the world,
there must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
there must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
there must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
there must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
there must be peace in the heart.

By Lao Tzu (570-490 B.C.)

John MacArthur calls Peace: A By-Product of Faith, Hope, and Love …
Peace has many different aspects in my view; it’s not just about peace as opposed to war, but inner tranquility, peace and quiet, the absence of violence.
I’ve often felt that the only way I could contribute was in a small way, taking care that my personal world was in peace, I once read a quote by Joan Baez:
"I would say that I'm a nonviolent soldier. In place of weapons of violence, you have to use your mind, your heart, your sense of humour, every faculty available to you...” (I use my camera)
That fitted my philosophy, and I guess if we ALL followed that path, world peace would not be so elusive?

Have a peaceful day and thanx, M, (*_*)

2 comments:

maleentjeh said...

Hallo Magda,

Ja, ik heb die 'tour' van oorlogskerkhoven een paar jaar geleden ook gedaan - wou aan Phillip de verschrikkingen laten voelen en de impact die het nog heeft op het Vlaamse leven in de regio zoveel jaren later (en dit in een tijd van 'glorification of violence'). Ook ik vond dat het geen eenzijdig bezoek mocht zijn dus hebben we ook 'alle kanten' van de oorlog bezocht. In een oorlog zijn er nooit 'winnaars'.

Marleen

David Toyne said...

Greatly moving writing Magda.