11 Nov 2014

La Der des Ders

One hundred years ago our elders were about to get bogged down in an absurd, relentless, psychological trench war in the soggy mud fields of northeastern France, staying put for weeks on end under undescribable stress, inching their way through, losing those inches, fighting on, turning the trench war underground, 'while a clique of portly generals and high commanders watched from a safe distance, smoking cigars, clinking Cognac glasses and pushing clusters of batallion figurines across a battlefield map that might well have been a chessboard' (cf. Lest We Forget by La Baguette Magique).

Remembrance Poppy, via IWM

Remembrance Day leaves me humbled - and powerless - as a day where words are nothing but mere encumbrances, as they sit pretty on a page and console the writer in some sort of vanity of gratitude while failing to express meaningfully what is in our hearts and souls, and failing to soften the hurt and pain of the fallen who long passed away, and the absurdity of war that the international political and financial establishments inflicted to our young men in a collusion of shame, going as far as ordering the shooting down of soldiers by their fellow regiment comrades in order to 'set an example' to the troops. In France, (at least) 650 soldiers died of the sort.

A generation of soldiers got wiped out by the millions and the war irrevocably sent a ripple effect of loss and destruction far beyond the battlefields into the families and local communities, with the increasingly flimsy hope and belief that WWI was the obligatory evil that would lead to eternal peace on earth, and the history of wartime thus had to culminate into this WWI grand finale as it were to be 'La Der des Ders' (The Last Ever War), thus giving our elders the meagre validation as to their ultimate sacrifice of life and sanity.

'The Cemetery, Etaples' (1919), by Sir John Lavery (1919), via IWM

I was born in the French northern town of Saint-Quentin, Picardie, only a few miles away from The Somme and Chemin des Dames battlefields. My hometown was rased down to the ground during WWI, and both the town and countryside bear to this day a continuous reminder of war, through the myriads of war cemeteries, cratered landscapes, down to the Art Déco architecture that bears legacy to the fact that once stood a building that got wiped out by war.

Each of my great grandads fought the war and I remember Louis, my paternal great grandad, telling our family a few chosen anecdotes from the front, after some convincing. He was private in his thoughts and views and we respected his pauses and silences and restraint and each of his carefully-uttered words. He saw death in the face, he lost comrades, many were kids no older than 20. Louis got impacted by a shell in the nape of neck that left him with a cross-shaped scar, like the protective hand of God. For he survived the war, resumed his life, returned to work in the textile mill, raised two kids with his wife, fed the family on his fruit and vegetable garden, haunted till death by the horror of war. And tragically La Der des Ders never was to be the last ever war...

P.S: La Der des Ders, a contracted form of La Dernière des Dernières (literally 'the last of the last'), is loosely translated as 'The War to End All Wars.'