Remembrance Day, Veterans Day Songs and Poems
A way to commemorate Remembrance Day, Veterans Day, or Armistice Day is through poems and songs of remembrance either written by the men and women who served in the war or written by those after to keep the memory of those people and what they did for their country alive.
Let's look at some of the songs and poems used in services on November 11th and the meaning behind them.
The Last Post:
The Last Post is a bugle call and also a poem by Robert Graves and is commonly used at Remembrance ceremonies and at military funerals.
This originated in the 17th century and it was during the 19th century that various countries of the British Empire adopted it at military funerals. Since 1928, the Last Post has been played at the war memorial at leper (Ypres) in Belgium, commemorating all the people who died at teh Battle of Ypres during WWI.
In the United States, a version of The Last Post, Taps, is used instead.
Robert Graves wrote the poem The Last Post:
The bugler sent a call of high romance--
"Lights out! Lights out!" to the deserted square.
On the thin brazen notes he threw a prayer,
"God, if it's this for me next time in France ...
O spare the phantom bugle as I lie
Dead in the gas and smoke and roar of guns,
Dead in a row with the other broken ones
Lying so stiff and still under the sky,
Jolly young Fusiliers too good to die."
The Rouse is played after The Last Post and is also known by the name Reveille, even though the two are actually different tunes.
The Rouse is often played during Remembrance ceremonies.
O Valiant Hearts:
This is actually a hymn dedicated to those who died in WWI and while the words come from poet Sir John S. Arkwright, the music was first created by Dr. Charles Harris. It has been reworked by adding the words to Valour by Vaughn Williams and then the music of Valient Hearts by Gustav Holst.
An excerpt of the lyrics:
Still stands His Cross from that dread hour to this,
Like some bright star above the dark abyss;
Still, through the veil, the Victor’s pitying eyes
Look down to bless our lesser Calvaries.
I Vow To Thee, My Country:
This is a Commonwealth Remembrance Day song, created in 1921, using a poem by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice and again with the music of Gustav Holst.
The poem was written in 1908, but in 1912, Spring-Rice traveled to Washington but after the Americans entered the First World War he came back to Britain, but just before he left he re-worked some words and sentences.
In 1921, Gustav Holst adapted the tune from his suite The Planets and it was first performed in 1925.
An excerpt of the lyrics read:
I heard my country calling, away across the sea, Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me. Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head, And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
There have been some contemporary Remembrance Day and Veterans Day songs.
Canadian Shawn Hlookoff wrote a song and dedicated it to the Canadian forces, called simply Soldier.
Some more Canadian songs as well for Remembrance Day.
Remembrance Day and Veterans Day poems:
Another way to honor those who have died fighting during war and the civilians that have died as well, is to read some remembrance poems.
Siegfried Sasson is a very well known WWI poet, and he became best known for his anti-war verse such as The Unreturning Army That Was Youth and The Troops:
Dim, gradual thinning of the shapeless gloom
Shudders to drizzling daybreak that reveals
Disconsolate men who stamp their sodden boots
And turn dulled, sunken faces to the sky
Haggard and hopeless. They, who have beaten down
The stale despair of night, must now renew
Their desolation in the truce of dawn,
Murdering the livid hours that grope for peace.
Yet these, who cling to life with stubborn hands,
Can grin through storms of death and find a gap
In the clawed, cruel tangles of his defence.
They march from safety, and the bird-sung joy
Of grass-green thickets, to the land where all
Is ruin, and nothing blossoms but the sky
That hastens over them where they endure
Sad, smoking, flat horizons, reeking woods,
And foundered trench-lines volleying doom for doom.
O my brave brown companions, when your souls
Flock silently away, and the eyeless dead
Shame the wild beast of battle on the ridge,
Death will stand grieving in that field of war
Since your unvanquished hardihood is spent.
And through some mooned Valhalla there will pass
Battalions and battalions, scarred from hell;
The unreturning army that was youth;
The legions who have suffered and are dust.
There are numerous Remembrance poems for children as well, but Wilfred Owen probably has the most famous poem after In Flanders Fields that really speaks about the horrors of war.
Wilfred Owen was an English and Welsh poet and soldier and he is well-known for his realistic portrayal of war, especially the fighting that took place in the trenches of WWI. He was controversial at the time because the picture that he painted was in stark contrast to the public perception of the war. He was good friends with Siegfried Sassoon. He was killed at the Battle of the Sambre just before the end of the war.
Dulce et Decorum Est was written in 1917 but was not published until after Owen's death in 1920. He dedicated the 28 line poem to his mother and it tells of a group of soldiers marching towards camp when they are attacked by gas shells and as they scramble to put their gas masks on, one man doesn't make it quickly enough.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
The last two lines of the poem mean 'it is sweet and becoming to die for one's country'.
Probably the most famous war poem of all time is In Flanders Fields written by Canadian John McCrae on May 3, 1915 after he saw his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer die the day before.
The poppy has become an important symbol for remembering the dead on November 11th as poppies can grow in damaged and disturbed soil, hence why there was so many growing on the battlefields.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
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Clearlake, California, United States