Sunday, November 04, 2007

Harry Lamin's Letters From The First World War

Who would have thought I'd ever use an Iron Maiden soundtrack, yikes? Lyrics are at the end of the post
In keeping with the upcoming Veteran's Day (formerly Armistice Day) commemoration on November 11th (wanna bet hardly anyone is studying this in the test prep only climate of the NYCDOE?) I found this great site in the blogs of note section in blogger. I'll try to update some of the diary entries with coordinating images and audio. (good image source) (and another)
Here's info on this wonderful site with the most current diary entry from 10/30/1917:
"This blog is made up of transcripts of Harry Lamin's letters from the first World War. The letters will be posted exactly 90 years after they were written. To find out Harry's fate, follow the blog!

William Henry Bonser Lamin (that's a picture of Harry in the first frame of the video) Born in August 1887 in Awsworth Notts, to Henry and Sarah Lamin. Elder Sisters Catherine (Kate) and Agnes (Annie) and Elder brother John (Jack). Educated at Awsworth Board School, just outside Ilkeston, Derbyshire, England.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 12th October 1917 - 1st battle of Passchendaele
As promised, a sort of explanation of the heavy casualties suffered between the 11th and14th October.

On those days, the battalion was in the front line for the first Battle of Passchendaele. A very significant feature of the battle was the rain. Torrential rain fell on a battlefield where all the field drainage system had been destroyed in the fighting.

In the two days up to the 9th October an inch of rain had fallen, over half the normal rainfall for the month. The whole battlefield was a sea of mud. October 1917 was the wettest October that century.

While Harry’s battalion was in the front line, the main attack on the 12th October was carried out by the Australian and New Zealand troops. Their losses were enormous. They had little success. The casualties experienced by the 9th battalion York & Lancaster Regiment must have been incidental to the main attack, drawing significant casualties from the fighting resulting from it.

Some quotes from accounts of the battle may help set the scene. The New Zealanders account of the battle

"Recovering the New Zealand wounded from the battlefield took two and a half days days even with 3,000 extra men from the Fourth Brigade, artillery and other units plus a battalion from the British 49th Division. The conditions were horrendous and six men were needed to carry each stretcher because of the mud and water. The Germans suffered the same problems and an informal truce for stretcher-bearers came into force, although anyone without a stretcher was fired on. By the evening of October 14 there simply was no one left alive on the battlefield."

Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig’s account of the battle paints a sorry picture of brave men engaged in a totally futile task.

“They advanced every time with absolute confidence in their power to overcome the enemy, even though they had sometimes to struggle through mud up to their waists to reach him. So long as they could reach him they did overcome him, but physical exhaustion placed narrow limits on the depth to which each advance could be pushed, and compelled long pauses between the advances.”

Throughout the duration of the war Haig never once visited the front line to see, first-hand, what his troops endured. (My tame History teacher informs me)

he 1917 Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres or simply Third Ypres, was one of the major battles of World War I. In this battle, British, ANZAC, Canadian and South African units engaged the Imperial German Army. The battle was fought for control of the village of Passchendaele (Passendale in modern Flemish, now part of the community of Zonnebeke) near the town of Ypres (Ieper in Flemish) in West Flanders, Belgium. The plan was to drive a hole in the German lines, advance to the Belgian coast and capture the German submarine bases there. It was intended to create a decisive corridor in a crucial area of the front, and to take pressure off the French forces. After the Nivelle Offensive the French Army was suffering from extremely low morale, resulting in mutinies and misconduct on a scale that threatened the field-worthiness of entire divisions.

Although the period of the battle saw spells of good weather lasting long enough to dry out the land, Passchendaele has become synonymous with the misery of fighting in thick mud. Most of the battle took place on largely reclaimed marshland, swampy even without rain. The extremely heavy preparatory bombardment by the British tore up the surface of the land, and heavy rain from August onwards produced an impassable terrain of deep "liquid mud", in which an unknown number of soldiers drowned. Even the newly-developed tanks bogged down.

The Germans were well-entrenched, with mutually-supporting pillboxes which the initial bombardment had not destroyed. After three months of fierce fighting the Canadian Corps took Passchendaele on 6 November 1917, ending the battle, but in the meantime the Allied Powers had sustained almost half a million casualties and the Germans just over a quarter of a million. Passchendaele was the last gasp of the "one more push" philosophy which posited that the stalemate of attritional trench warfare could be broken by brute offensive action against fixed positions. Its comparative failure and the horrendous conditions in which it was fought damaged Field-Marshal Haig's reputation and made it emblematic of the horror of industrialised warfare.

In a foreign field he lay Lonely soldier, unknown grave
On his dying words he prays Tell the world of Paschendale
Relive all that he's been through Last communion of his soul
Rust your bullets with his tears Let me tell you 'bout his years
Laying low in a blood filled trench Kill tim 'til my very own death
On my face I can feel the falling rain Never see my friends again
In the smoke, in the mud and lead Smell the fear and the feeling of dread
Soon be time to go over the wall Rapid fire and the end of us all
Whistles, shouts and more gun fire Lifeless bodies hang on barbed wire
Battlefield nothing but a bloody tomb Be reunited with my dead friends soon
Many soldiers eighteen years Drown in mud, no more tears
Surely a war no-one can win Killing time about to begin
Home, far away From the war, a chance to live again
Home, far away But the war, no chance to live again
The bodies of ours and our foes The sea of death it overflows
In no man's land, God only knows Into jaws of death we go
Crucified as if on a cross Allied troops they mourn their loss
German war propaganda machine Such before has never been seen
Swear I heard the angels cry Pray to god no more may die
So that people know the truth Tell the tale of Paschendale
Cruelty has a human heart Every man does play his part
Terror of the men we kill The human heart is hungry still
I stand my ground for the very last time Gun is ready as I stand in line
Nervous wait for the whistle to blow Rush of blood and over we go
Blood is falling like the rain Its crimson cloak unveils again
The sound of guns can't hide their shame
And so we die on Paschendale Dodging shrapnel and barbed wire
Running straight at the cannon fire Running blind as I hold my breath
Say a prayer symphony of death As we charge the enemy lines
A burst of fire and we go down I choke a cry but no-one hears
Fell the blood go down my throat Home, far away
From the war, a chance to live again Home, far away
But the war, no chance to live again See my spirit on the wind
Across the lines, beyond the hill Friend and foe will meet again
Those who died at Paschendale

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