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Archive for November 7th, 2013

Balancing Remembrance

Posted by Dirck on 7 November, 2013

After yesterday’s entry, I should be saying something about pens, but 11 November is nearly upon us and I feel constrained to make some observation upon it.  If what’s in my To Do box plays out as I expect, I’ll definitely be in with a Pen vs. Ink story next week, a conflict I also deplore but one with rather fewer consequences.

This week, I changed my Facebook picture to something appropriate to the impending Remembrance Day, but containing also a reference to the more recent role of Canadian troops in seeing the occupying forces out of the Netherlands.  This prompted one of my friends there to send me a note, in which he commented on the odd coincidence of timing of my change of picture and his reading up on Leo Major.  Had I heard of him?

I’m amazed I hadn’t, and I wonder if I’m an anomaly or representative of a strangely uninformed majority of my countrymen.  Amazed, because it’s the sort of thing that epic poems used to be written about.  I’ll summarize what I’ve found since, which is available at somewhat more length in the rather better French Wikipedia entry on him (the English one is oddly choppy):

  • Shortly after D-Day, kills four SS soldiers, drives off however many others fit into a Hanomag, and captures imporant codes and communications equipment… and loses his left eye to a phosphorous grenade.
  • On a one-man scouting expedition, captures 93 Werhmacht soldiers; possibly assisted by the SS shooting at them when the Werhmacht officer was seen in the act of capitulation.
  • Wounded by an anti-tank mine, he flees the field hospital to avoid being send home for having multiple spinal fractures; spends a month AWOL recovering in a barn before rejoining his unit.
  • Part of a two-man recon, is spurred by the loss of his companion to capture first the machine gun nest responsible, and then the entire town of Zwolle through a combination of taking prisoners and lying to them about the size of the attacking force, and running around madly firing three different weapons and throwing grenades.  Kills unknown numbers of enemy soldiers, including four out of a group of eight SS he happened upon.
  • In Korea, is sent as part of a twenty man squad to see what might be might be done about the Chinese taking of a hill previously held by 10,000 Americans.  The Chinese are frightened away, regroup, and send an unsuccessful 14,000 men to retake the position.  Holds out for three days until relief appears.

You would think someone like that would be on the tip of all tongues, eh?

Now, the other thing I heard about this week which I had not been previously aware of is the White Poppy campaign.  I’m slightly concerned to not have heard of this previously, as I do pay some attention to things like this; it is a long-standing effort, although if the CBC item I was listening to it is perhaps somewhat intermittent, to memorialize the loss of the war dead without a lot of chest-thumping and glorification of war itself.

I’m all for that, and it is perhaps somewhat at odds with the tale of Leo Major that I start with, which is very easy to turn into a Stunning War Tales Illustrated adventure.  However, there’s a couple of items lurking in his story that actually mesh reasonably well with a reduction of chest thumping.  The minor one is connected with his capture of the 93 Germans; he declined decoration for his actions as a protest against what he saw as the horrible mistake of Operation Market Garden.  The bigger one comes from his rampage in Zwolle, where by his own report he wasn’t really aiming at most of the Germans he happened upon, but was rather just trying to come across as an awful big bunch of guys.  The SS men were killed because they drew on him.  Another officer, not of the SS, he sat and talked to, essentially telling him is was rather late in the war to get killed, so why doesn’t he take his men and bugger off home while there’s time– which he apparently did.  He was not a kill-crazed berserker, for all that he was very good at the arts of war.  Fleeing was satisfactory.

One more item, attached to Major’s story but not strictly of it, comes from someone living near Zwolle.  Speaking about the evident preparation on the German part for the appearance of Allied troops,

A neighbour reassured him, he says, insisting a quick, efficient liberation was at hand.

“He said, ‘We are lucky because the (soldiers) that come through here are from Canada … and they always have fire in the belly.”

and if there’s any glorification to be done to war, it lies there.  Efficient delivery from tyranny.  While it’s easy to make Leo Major into a cartoon of bloody action, it’s probably better to think of him as a distillation of a good soldier– if it’s got to be done, let’s get it done and be done.  I’m very happy to have been introduced to this figure of history; a spark of patriotic pride, rather dampened by current politics, is rekindled in my bosom.  I’m not wearing a white poppy, not because I want to glorify the bloodshed attached to Major’s career and the entire enterprise of war, but because the red stands to remind of the cost of that enterprise.

What I said yesterday about the evident human predisposition to clump into opposing factions is not something I’m neglecting in this; it’s what drives wars, and if we’re going to ponder the stopping of them, surely a reminder of what comes of not stopping them is a valuable thing.


Today’s pen: Pelikan M600
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc Racing Green

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