Friday, May 20, 2011

Remembering World War I

C.S. Choules
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.
-John McCrae (In Flanders Fields)
 Last October I wrote that "World War I is finally over!" when Germany made its final payment of $94 million in war reparations. WWI occurred some 90 years ago and yet it seems a different era of time. The Wright brothers were still working the kinks out of heavier than air flight (airplanes) and most people did not yet own a car or have electricity.

WWI and its era are on the cusp of passing from living history to recorded history. The last known Veteran of WWI passed away this month. Claude Stanley Choules died in a nursing home in Western Australia at age 110. Choules (rhymes with jewels) had just turned 14 when he joined the British Royal Navy in 1917. The New York Times reports,
Mr. Choules was defiant of the tolls of time, a centenarian who swam in the sea, twirled across dance floors and published his first book [a biography] at well past 100. He also became a pacifist, refusing to march in parades commemorating wars like the one that made him famous.
There is just one remaining service survivor of WWI, another Briton, Florence Green, who was a waitress in the Women’s Royal Air Force. Who knew there were military waitresses? The last American veteran, Frank Buckles, passed away in February of this year.

Bottom Line

For most of 10,000 years human history we have only mosaics or a rare painting to capture what life looked like. The 20th century (and part of the 19th) are unique in being photographed and filmed and extensively documented. Still there is something unique to the first person viewpoint and a bit of history is lost forever when the last witness dies.

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