Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Eight - Birdsong - Part Six

I awoke early this morning with a burning desire to watch “My Boy Jack,” a movie my friend Matt sent me last year. It’s about Rudyard Kipling’s son who fought in WWI. Obviously, I haven’t been able to get Birdsong off my mind.

John Kipling was missing and “presumed injured.” I know there are “missing” in every war, but I also know from reading Birdsong that many were listed as missing because the shells had blown their bodies to bits. They couldn’t tell the families with any certainty that their sons were dead because there wasn’t enough left of them to identify.

After hearing that his son was missing, Kipling immediately continued working with the War Propaganda Office where they decided how much of the facts to release to the British people. He carried on with his work because he had to. I mentioned in this post that in my experience, men seem less able to face death and dying than women. The women carry on with the work of caring because they have to.

But I was wrong, wasn’t I? Women do it on a one-to-one scale but in this movie Kipling did it for the entire British fighting force. He had to. There must be people to face the facts like that even when their own sons are “presumed injured.” It must be done.

And this is what I love about reading. It transports me to a different time and place and allows me to feel what others have felt. It educates me far beyond the scope of my little speck of existence on this vast planet.

The War Memorial Elizabeth visits near Albert, France is the Thiepval Memorial. The known dead have graves; the arches and columns list the names of those who were never found.

From The Great War 1914-1918: A Guide to WWI Battlefields and History of the First World War

The next two images are from the Thiepval Memorial page of


Final quote (probably) from Birdsong, this from page 227 upon reading the roll call after an horrendous battle--
Names came pattering into the dusk, bodying out the places of their forebears, the villages and towns where the telegram would be delivered, the houses where the blinds would be drawn, where low moans would come in the afternoon behind closed doors; and the places that had borne them, which would be like nunneries, like dead towns without their life or purpose, without the sound of fathers and their children, without young men at the factories or in the fields, with no husbands for the women, no deep sound of voices in the inns, with the children who would have been born, who would have grown and worked or painted, even governed, left ungenerated in their fathers’ shattered flesh that lay in stinking shellholes in the beet-crop soil, leaving their homes to put up only granite slabs in place of living flesh, on whose inhuman surface the moss and lichen would cast their crawling green indifference.
Thank you, Sebastian.

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