Tuesday, June 25, 2013

BOND REFORMATION TOUR: Sobering moments at Verdun, WW I battlefield and burial ground

Cross of 1000s of fallen French 20 year olds
After a nice French breakfast by our hostess in Pierrefonds, we loaded up the coach and headed for Strasbourg, a stop at Verdun battlefield for lunch on the way. I can only imagine the horror of February 21, 1916 when the first deafening artillery barrages of this bloody battle commenced their deadly work. So many young men's bodies were unidentifiable in WW I they had to make a special area for holding the skulls and bones, all of real young men who felt their impending ruin in the instant before they were killed in the deadly trench warfare of WW I. 10,000,000 soldiers died, average age, 20 years. We
witnessed a flaming truck fire on the A4 to
Bones of sons who were never identified
Strasbourg which made me think of the inferno of reality that burning at the stake was for that first Paris Reformation martyr in 1512.

Here is what I read from a chapter in HOLD FAST in a Broken World as we pulled away from the fields of crosses and the interred bones of fallen boys. 

...It was November 29, 1917, Jack’s nineteenth birthday. It was also his first day of trench warfare. Some birthday party! Later he wrote about that day. “The first bullet I heard ‘whined’
Truck trailer conflagration on the A4
like a journalist’s or a peacetime poet’s bullet. At that moment there was something not exactly like fear… a little quavering signal that said, ‘This is War. This is what Homer wrote about.’”
One day he had been a fresh young college student; now he was a soldier. After a hasty few months of training he was dubbed a Second Lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry and shipped off to France. Near Arras he heard that first of many bullets. When not dodging those bullets, he wrote down reflections on his experience.

The war—the frights, the cold, the smell, the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without blade of grass, the boots worn day and night till they seemed to grow to your feet… I have gone to sleep marching and woken again and found myself marching still. Familiarity both with the very old and the very recent dead… I came to know, and pity, and reverence the ordinary man.

April, 1918 at Mt. Bernenchon, near Lillers, France, an artillery shell whistled louder and closer than the rest. Then it hit. Erupting in a deafening explosion, the shrapnel instantly killed Jack’s friend, who had been a father figure to him. And it hit Jack. He wrote, “The moment just after I had been hit… I found that I was not breathing and concluded that this was death.” Perhaps at the field hospital at Etaples, perhaps at a convalescent camp on the Salisbury Plain, embittered by his experience, Jack began writing a poem:

Come let us curse our Master ere we die,
For all our hopes in endless ruin lie.
The good is dead. Let us curse God most High.

Laugh then and slay. Shatter all things of worth,
Heap torment still on torment for thy mirth—
Thou art not Lord while there are Men on earth.

Jack was his nickname. His real name was Clive Staples Lewis. The lines above appeared in his first book, Spirits in Bondage, a collection of poems Lewis wrote while a young atheist and that he described to a friend as “mainly strung around the idea that nature is diabolical and malevolent and that God, if he exists, is outside of and in opposition to the cosmic arrangements.”
Perhaps after suffering the horrors of WWI, his bitterness and cynicism is more understandable. There were horrors aplenty. On the first day alone of the Battle of the Somme, 20,000 young men’s lives were cut short, many of them so mangled by artillery shells, by the tramping feet of advancing and retreating soldiers, the debris, mud, and carnage that in the five-month battle more than 50,000 soldier’ bodies were so obliterated that they have no known graves. Between 1914 and 1918, an average of 5,600 young men died each day of those five years, more than ten million lives. No wonder Lewis penned the cynical lines “laugh then and slay.”...

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