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12 November 2015

When you see millions of the mouthless dead / Veterans Day / War Without End Amen

Charles Hamilton Sorley, a Scot from Aberdeen, was shot through the head and died instantly at age 20, at the Battle of Loos, on Wednesday 13 October 1915. His body was lost, but his kit bag was found and sent home to his family. They found this poem inside it.

When You See Millions
of the Mouthless Dead

Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915)

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, "They are dead." Then add thereto,
"Yet many a better one has died before."
Then, scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

Original text: Charles Hamilton Sorley. Marlborough and other Poems. 4th edition. Cambridge: University Press, 1919: 78 (no. XXXIV). First publication date: 1916. Composition date: 1915. Form: sonnet. Rhyme: ababbabacdcdcd


In 1918, largely by coincidence and random accident, the combatants along the Western Front (France) agreed that the guns would fall silent at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.


I found a poppy Tuesday night. No one was selling them -- distributing them for a vets charity -- around town, so for the 2nd time in my life as a veteran I wandered into the VFW hall, and the friendly barmaid had a bunch of them on the bar. 

I wore it on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. A couple of people noticed and knew what it meant. One thanked me for my service -- this Endless War's Hallmark Card for this Miserable Circumstance.

But I like this holiday better than the other one, because Veterans Day / Remembrance Day / Armistice Day is more about the guys who came back pretty much okay.

If you have male children, make sure they can type fast and well. If they have dual citizenship, Do Not Give Up either citizenship.

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