Sunday, November 11, 2018


My dad was a World War II veteran and was alive when World War I began and ended!

But do I qualify as a veteran since I had an army ID card from birth till I was 23 and then I served as a VA. Chaplain in Augusta for two years and was paid by the military archdiocese?


Anonymous 2 said...

We rightly honor our veterans. My father was also a veteran (a British one), who served in the Second World War and took part in the invasion of Normandy as a member of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps attached to the 49th Infantry Division (the Polar Bears). However, to maintain critical perspective, in this honoring it also seems appropriate to recall the words of a famous British soldier who lost his life fighting in the trenches in the First World War aka “The Great War” aka “The War to End All Wars”:

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand fears that vision’s face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange friend,” I said, “Here is no cause to mourn.”
“None,” said the other, “Save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also. . . . .
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in the dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . .”

From Wilfred Owen, Strange Meeting. The poem was published in 1919 but was written in the spring or early summer of 1918. Owen was killed one week before the end of the War.

My mother was German and was on the receiving end of Allied bombing in Cologne during the Second World War, much as my father’s family was on the receiving end of German bombing in Southampton. In the words of the famous question in Pete Seeger’s folk ballad “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”— When will they ever learn? And so it seems appropriate to let the great Marlene Dietrich tell it:

John Nolan said...

Anonymous 2

My grandfather had what might be described as a 'good war'. He was a regular soldier, having joined the 5th Dragoon Guards in 1911, and was a corporal on mobilization in August 1914. He took part in the cavalry action at Nery (1 Sept 1914) and was wounded, his horse killed under him. Hospitalized in England until April 1915, he missed 1st Ypres, which accounted for many of the 'Old Contemptibles' - that 'red little, dead little army'.

When he rejoined his regiment (now promoted sergeant) he found it manning the trenches as infantry. When a 'big push' was in the offing they were re-united with their horses in order to exploit the breakthrough which eluded the Allies until 1918; for the rest of the time they resumed an infantry role. Dismounted cavalry were regarded as 'at rest' even though they were manning front-line trenches! He continued on the Western Front until the end of the war.

In August 1918 he was commissioned on the battlefield and transferred to 2nd Bn South Lancashire Regiment. On 24 October he won the Military Cross in the last action fought by his battalion before the Armistice.

He retired from the army in 1922, with a tax-free gratuity of £1000, a considerable amount in those days. He moved to America and had a second career in the diplomatic service, becoming British Consul in Philadelphia, for which he was awarded the MBE. He retired in 1957 and died ten years later.

The Great War was a disaster for European civilization but once embarked on it had to be won, and by the end the main effort in the main theatre against the main enemy was being made by British and Empire forces. It was unique in the history of British arms, and resulted in outright victory. Some acknowledgement of this was made this year, but overall the remembrance of the War is negative and lachrymose. By all means acknowledge the sacrifice made by so many, but it does no service to my grandfather and many others like him to overlook their splendid achievement.

When it comes to the Second World War neither the British nor the Americans can claim the chief credit for the defeat of German arms. The main theatre was the Eastern, not the Western Front.

PS In the 1980s I was attached to the staff of 49 Inf Bde, based at Chilwell, Nottingham. They still had the polar bear emblem!

Anonymous said...

Without America, there would have been neither an eastern nor western front....only a German front

John Nolan said...


We're talking about the First World War, where the American contribution was significant but hardly decisive. The main US effort (Meuse-Argonne Offensive, September to November 1918) was hampered by inexperienced commanders and poor staff work, which led to excessive casualties. The decisive gains were made further north where the Hindenburg line was breached. In fact two divisions of the AEF took part in this, under overall British command (4th Army, General Sir Henry Rawlinson).

As for the Second World War, from the Russian viewpoint the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944 was little more than a sideshow. And contrary to what Hollywood would have us believe, D-Day in terms of troop numbers, air and naval support, logistics and planning, and technological innovation was not a predominantly American operation.

Mark Thomas said...

Anonymous 2,

Thank you for your very interesting, beautiful post.

As to "when will they ever learn..."

In 1944 A.D., Pope Venerable Pius XII called for the establishment of an international organization "for the maintenance of peace, of an organ invested by common consent with supreme power to whose office it would also pertain to smother in its germinal state any threat of isolated or collective aggression."

"No one could hail this development with greater joy than he who has long upheld the principle that the idea of war as an apt and proportionate means of solving international conflicts is now out of date."

Pope Venerable Pius XII: Address to delegates of the fourth annual Congress of the World Movement for Federal Government, April 6, 1951:

"Your movement, gentlemen, dedicates itself to realizing an effective political organization of the world.

"Nothing is more in conformity with the traditional doctrine of the Church, with her teaching concerning legitimate or illegitimate war, above all in the present emergency.

"It is necessary, therefore, to arrive at such an organization, if for no other reason than to put an end to the armaments race in which for many tears peoples have been ruining and exhausting themselves through sheer waste."

Pope Venerable Pius XI, 1956 A.D. Christmas Message:

The United Nations Organization:

"This organization ought also to have the right and the power of forestalling all military intervention of one State in another, whatever be the pretext under which it is effected, and also the right and power of assuming, by means of a sufficient police force, the safeguarding of order in the State which is threatened."

"...We desire to see strengthened the authority of the U.N. especially for effecting general disarmament which We have so much at heart, and on which We have already spoken in other discourses."

"In fact only in the ambit of an institution like the United Nations can the promise of individual nations to reduce armament, especially to abandon production and use of certain arms, be mutually exchanged under the strict obligation of international law."

"Likewise only the United Nations is at present in a position to exact the observance of this obligation by assuming effective control of the armaments of all nations without exception..."

"The acceptance of the control is the point crucial for victory, where every nation will show sincere desire for peace."


Mark Thomas

John Nolan said...

Mark Thomas

You have just demonstrated how wrong a pope can be when pontificating on matters beyond his remit. To suggest that the aims of the 'World Movement for Federal Government' were in conformity with Catholic doctrine is quite frankly bizarre.

Also, in the aftermath of the Suez war and the brutal repression of the Hungarian uprising (Xmas 1956), Pius XII's naive faith in the UNO shows he had lost contact with the reality of international politics.

Peace is not furthered by pious platitudes, irrespective of who utters them.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for what you wrote above.
My grandfather was a corporal in WW1.
He was wounded in 1915.
He was awarded a military medal and military medal with bar in 1917, as a part of Empire forces you refer to, with conspicuous gallantry in action and an absolute disregard of personal safety in saving a comrades life etc and was also gassed.....
He died before I was born after time in repatriation hospital of lung disease etc though never a smoker nor drinker etc......
His 3 sons included my father a successful civil servant and 2 sons who served in WW2. One uncle was not quite 18 at the fall of Singapore and survived miraculously to be released in 1945 and migrate from Australia to Canada in other uncle had an almost equally dangerous WW2 in the Merchant Navy providing oil etc to the UK.....


Anonymous said...

Anyone interested in WW1 should spend perhaps 5 or so mins googling Sir (General) John Monash who was far far more than an able commander. His ancestors were German Jews and his contributions to the 1918 end of "the War to end all Wars" should be more widely known. I believe in WW1 US troops served under Sir John in 1918.

John Nolan said...

Along with Sir John Monash should be mentioned Sir Arthur Currie, who commanded the Canadian Corps. Neither had been regular soldiers before the war. It is to Haig's credit that he recognized the qualities of both officers and trusted their judgement.

That said, the Australians and Canadians served happily under their former (British) commanders, Sir William Birdwood and Sir Julian Byng, respectively. Byng became Governor-General of Canada after the war and Birdwood would have held the same position in Australia, had not the Australian Prime Minister insisted on the appointment of one of his political cronies.

The New Zealanders were not so fortunate; their commander (Sir Alexander Godley) was a somewhat aloof figure who never won the affection of his men.