April Last Post

Our public ceremony was cancelled due to the national restrictions in place, however individual Members of the Brookwood Last Post performed their usual functions or simply remembered at three o’clock today.

Our bugler Ruth Moore sounded the Last Post and Reveille, whilst some of our usual Standard Bearers dipped their Standards at the appropriate time.

Paul McCue read out the Individual Remembrances. We remembered Private William Betterbee of the Royal Fusiliers and Gunner David Noble of the Canadian Garrison Artilery. Both men fought in the First World War, were wounded and were then victims of the Spanish Influenza epidemic and died exactly 101 years ago on 5th April 1919. They are both buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery.

Our poem was by French war poet Guillaume Apollinaire who survived the war despite a serious head wound, but also succumbed to the Spanish Influenza epidemic. His biography shows a fascinating character:

While most World War I versifiers dwelled on the misery and toil of life in the trenches, avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire often portrayed it as an intoxicating feast for the senses. A bohemian artist with a mysterious past—he was once jailed on suspicion of having stolen the “Mona Lisa”—Apollinaire enlisted in the French Army in 1914 despite being older than the age of conscription. He took to the life of a soldier with gusto, and later turned his experiences into a collection of experimental verse titled “Calligrammes.” “How lovely these flares are that light up the dark,” he wrote in a poem titled “Wonder of War.” “They climb their own peak and lean down to look / They are dancing ladies whose glances become eyes arms and hearts.” Apollinaire’s battlefield reveries were cut short in 1916, when he suffered a severe head wound from a piece of shrapnel. He survived the injury, but later became one of the millions to perish in the Spanish Flu epidemic, just two days before the Armistice. He’s now considered a founding figure in the Surrealist movement that flourished in the 1920s after his death.

Guillaume Apollinaire, c. 1916
Guillaume Apollinaire, c. 1916

His poem, To Italy:

O night o dazzling night
The dead are with our soldiers
The dead are standing in the trenches
Or falling below ground towards the Dearly Beloved
O Lille Saint-Quentin Laon Maubeuge Vouziers
We hurl our towns like grenades
Our rivers are brandished like sabres
Our mountains charge like cavalry

It was a fitting tribute under the circumstances and we hope May will be a public ceremony. Thanks to Paul McCue of the Secret WW2 Learning Network for much of the text.