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Remembrance Day / Armistice Day / Veterans Day

halifax-grand-parade-remembrance-day-2017

One Remembrance Day, I went to the ceremonies in Halifax, NS. The main cenotaph, in The Grand Parade downtown. It is a huge place, nearly a half a city block long and wide. A towering flag-mast is near one end, as befits a sea-faring city.

The city bus, which would normally be nearly empty during a mid-morning holiday run, was nearly full. And part way along, a grouping of twenty uniformed military personnel got on. All Navy. Spit-and-polish. I noted their shoes. I approved.

I arrived nearly an hour before 11:00 o’clock, but there were already hundreds present. The Grand Parade was awash with people, so much so that they were asked to keep on the grass, so the parade itself could manoeuver when it arrived. There was a tent where actual World War Two veterans sat. It was chill and cloudy, but no rain nor snow arrived.

Pipes and drums and a military band made themselves known in the distance. A flag carrying, colour-party of veterans marched in,  followed by ranks of modern military and red-uniformed RCMP. Followed by veterans and cadets and children and organizations. In, and around, and back they marched, to finally face the cenotaph itself. Crisp orders. Boots solid on the stones. Music. Hundreds of spectators.

The ceremony follows a set routine, of course. Much is squeezed into the eleven minutes around the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. A too-brief portion of God Save The Queen. Oh Canada. The Last Post. Booming artillery from high up Citadel Hill. A military helicopter clattering over us. The minute of silence. The chaplains with their words. And God’s.

There were two new (new to me, at any rate) events, and one occurrence that was impressive indeed.

Three flags – one of Canada and two smaller military – were lowered to half-staff during the ceremony. It was quite a distance to descend, and their wires screeched.

Six white doves were released. I doubt they were so-trained, but they flew into the distance and then came right back over the crowd before leaving.

And, the last note of the trumpet ended at the exact second the steeple bells began to chime its eleven times.

There is really no time to cheer during this sombre ceremony, but sometimes it is tempting so to do.

(photo)https://i.cbc.ca/1.4398936.1510415846!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_620/halifax-grand-parade-remembrance-day-2017.jpg

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When The Government And Country Fell, from “Kafka In The Castle”

10

Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason.

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skillful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands.

Look after each other.

Franz Kafka Prepares For The End Of Civilization

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(Image drawn by Franz Kafka)

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his lost diaries.  Here, as the learned Doktor of Laws, he has been asked to speak to the citizens of the small village where he is living with his sister for a few months. He speaks the truth, and avoids the truth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skilful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands. Look after each other.

 

16 January 1918

I did not tell them that war is the end result of injustice and arrogance, and that it is oftentimes necessary. I did not tell them that when the natural balance is upset by human action, the cost of righting it must be made in human payment. I did not tell them that a country where neighbour is cruel to neighbour is a country mean for war.

 

17 January 1918

I did not tell them how the Jews will always suffer in time of war. How we will be searched out, then driven as far as the east is from the west, and then be persecuted. How there will never be safety for us. Yea, even unto the land of Israel.

My Father Was A Veteran Who Marched On Remembrance Day

60fcc6ed57cfd2fb5d3373758564c568-division-guns

My father, Byron Caleb Estey, served in the Canadian Army for the entirety of the Second World War. He was 31 when he signed up, and was a decade or more older than most of the soldiers he served with. At the end of the war, he was offered an instant promotion from Corporal to Sergeant Major. He declined. He had had enough.

He was with the 90th Anti-Tank Battery. He was the member of the crew who calculated the coordinates to aim the gun and destroy targets. He did this up through Sicily and Italy, except for those times when he grabbed his rifle to shoot at soldiers shooting at him.

I imagine I could write pages repeating the anecdotes he told – and maybe some day I will. He didn’t talk all that much about the war, and when he did, I’d guess 80% of his stories were humorous. The other 20% were not.

I regret not discussing his war experiences more with him, but he did not encourage it. I once asked how close he got to the German soldiers. He said, close enough to kill them.

He hated Germans and Japanese all of his life. I understand that this is not the way of most soldiers. They mellow. They come to understand that soldiers on the other side were doing a job, just as they were. My father was not one of these. Those 20% of his stories explained his attitude to me.

He fought in – arguably – the most horrific and bloodiest battle in the war, the Battle of Ortona over Christmas week of 1943. He marched over piles of bodies, and crawled over piles of bodies. Such were the details he would tell. He didn’t speak of his feelings, or use words like “horror”.

On Remembrance Day he would march in the community parade. He rarely lingered for a meal or beer or camaraderie at The Legion. He did not seem affected by the memorial event, and did not talk any more or less about his experiences just because it was 11 November.

Because his tales were more funny than not, I’ll close on what might have been his last funny story.

At his death, the Royal Canadian Legion wanted to conduct a small ceremony at the funeral parlour. They requested that his medals be pinned to his chest. But, the medals could not be found. This was odd, because they were important to him, and he always wore them for the Remembrance Day parade.

It is excessive to say that the whole house was searched – but not by much. Drawers, shelves, boxes, closets, clothes, were repeatedly searched. Nothing. The Last Post was played over a Veteran with no medals.

Months later, when the house was being sold and possessions were being removed, his clothes were searched before being given away. In the side pocket of a jacket he never wore were the medals, all spiff and shiny.

He would have smiled at that.

Dale Estey

 

(image)http://i.pinimg.com/236x/60/fc/c6/60fcc6ed57cfd2fb5d3373758564c568–division-guns.jpg

When The Army Wanted Kafka As A Soldier

franz-kafka-cocuklugu

Kafka recorded the beginning of the First World War in his diary this way:

August 2, 1914: Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon.

That was it.

But, regardless of his lack of enthusiasm, Kafka believed in the duties of the citizen. He tried to join the army to fight. In fact, he tried to join a number of times. He was always refused because the government deemed his civil/government job was too important for him to relinquish.

But, near the end of the war, when Kafka was so sick he had lengthy periods of leave from his job to recuperate, the army came calling.  Kafka had to appear before authorities with medical proof of his illness.

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I ‘fill in’ one of his diary entries describing such a situation.

DE

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

07 February 1918

I find I must go to Prague at the end of next week. Such knowledge is proof that one should not open one’s mail. The Military yet again wishes to snare me, and I must once again prove that my hide is not worth the effort.

There were times (very rare) when my father would despair. Not his usual anger at the general incompetence and perfidy of the world around him, but a resignation to the belief that things would never get any better.

“If they want to drag me down,” he would say, “Then I may as well join them. I’ll go out into the street and let myself be swept away by the mob. I’ll become part of their common, grubby life, and let them wipe their boots on me.”

That is much as I feel right now. Let the army take me, dress me in their uniform, point me toward the Americans, and have some cowboy shoot me. Going into battle could be no worse than going into Prague.

 

My Father And The Summer Solstice

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Not that I post this every first day of summer, but I do find it neat to have such a connection to the Celts, about whom I have written three novels.

During World War Two, my father had the unique experience of guarding Stonehenge. Not by himself, of course, there were other members of the Canadian Army with him.
The vast plains around Stonehenge were utilised by the military in both world wars. During the First War, the area was a training ground for troops from various countries. There were many encampments for recruits, with both basic training and preparations to train for the trench warfare awaiting on the continent. There were thousands and thousands of men, and huge amounts of supplies.
During the Second War, the area was used as staging ground for the D-Day invasion. There was great security, and as much secrecy as possible. Soldiers were in place to guard the perimeter.
So, my father found himself not only guarding Stonehenge, but doing so on Midsummer Morn, when the sun rose over the monument. He was a learned man – a school teacher – and versed in the history of the place. He knew of the Celts and the Druids and some of the mythology. He knew this was sacred ground and that Midsummer Morn was especially important. He might have paused and tried to look into the past, and see more in the morning mist than was actually there. I do not know.
He did, however, when their watch was over and they got to eat, tell the other soldiers of the history of the place. He mentioned that, during such celebrations by the Celts, the Druids might have a virgin killed to appease the gods. They were aghast.
“What a waste,” said one.

DE

(image)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/news/2017/06/21/TELEMMGLPICT000132550612-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bqek9vKm18v_rkIPH9w2GMNoGXySPv9M1Jbe0Fc3Bi1Fk.jpeg

Memoir Of The Chickens And The Nazi

racist-grafitti
An Oldie Rock station just played Spinning Wheel by Blood, Sweat And Tears. This always – always – brings back my memories of working on a farm in Germany during my university days. It was a hit of the time.

And, since I am currently well into reading Alan Bennett’s new Memoirs, Keeping On, Keeping On, I did what I have not done for years. I excavated my Journals about my three month summer in Europe, and turned to the day which mirrors this.  And, since it proved to be a notable day, I’ll transpose it verbatim (well, except I’ll clean up the spelling).

18 June

An interesting day, in a rather strange way. I got to work some of the morning with the hired hand, Herr Steiner, alone. He could speak no English and I was surprised that I could converse with him as well as i could (we had lots of time and I could speak slowly and I could think things out. We were, as a point of interest, filling wool sacks.


He told me that he  did not care for the place very much and was planning to leave soon. I can not say that he gave me ideas. I already had them.

And then the other interesting queer occurrence. I am tempted to drag all the dramatic interest I can out of this episode, but I may as well tell it in a simple manner, for it happened in a simple way.

I was going into one of the egg houses to collect the noon-time eggs, and as i stepped through the door, I saw it. Now, I had been collecting eggs there twice a day for two weeks, and had never once noticed what i now saw.

There was a swastika scrawled on one of the walls. It was covered in dust (like everything else) and something beside it has been scratched over. I suppose one can not think of Germany without thinking of the Hitler era, and I had wondered what I would do or think if I came across something like this. I had made jokes about the Bunker on the back forty, or the tattered painting of Hitler in the attic.

I put the thing down to its most logical explanation, the imitative scrawl of a six or seven year old child. Even so, rather bigger thoughts went through my head every time I saw someone use a whip rather forcefully.

DE

(image) https://i.cbc.ca/1.3995470.1487856081!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_620/racist-grafitti.jpg

When The Government Changes from “Kafka In The Castle”

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Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason.

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skillful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands.

Look after each other.

DE

The Emperor Has Too Many Clothes

colq1

 

Brigadier O’Donald decided that it would be a grand day to become Admiral of the Fleet – Lord High Admiral if he chose the hat with cockade and plume.

Nodding jauntily in the air, the plume put on an impressive display, as he either agreed, or disapproved, with a toss, or a shake, of his head. The dancing ostrich feathers would add a dashing air as he boarded his flagship and, with just the right mixture of stringent authority and well- tempered geniality, moved in imperious sweeps among the ranks of ratings on the aft deck.

He would, of course, be extra careful about the pitfalls awaiting a man with ornate dress sword and scabbard, among the steep steps and narrow companionways.

******

Wednesday was khaki day for Brigadier O’Donald.

It was the day set aside to remind him of the loyalty he must always retain from his men, for what was a leader without his troops? And as a treat – for really, the dull brown did not make for a very striking appearance – the would chose the tank commander’s uniform.

With its wide web belt and shiny black holster on the hip, flap unsnapped to reveal the butt of a wicked forty-five. And of course the black leather gloves, as befits a man at the controls of so much power, and the steel helmet polished to a mirror-shine.

The riding crop? Ah, the riding crop was debatable.

******

Today would have a parade. Massed men at attention with stiffly held rifles and fixed bayonets.

Brigadier O’Donald would have to chose carefully to represent his awesome power and responsibility. Cavalry boots are a must, raising half-way up the calf and resounding with silver spurs, steel-tipped toes and heels.

Then would come crisp black trousers, billowing majestically around the thighs, and kept up with a wide leather belt. He took care that each red stripe reaching the length of each leg was as straight as an arrow.

His blue tunic, he decided, would have only muted decorations and the minimum of gold braid entwined about his shoulders. He was – after all – a fighting general.

******

A civic reception is the time when Brigadier O’Donald will be on close display.
He believes he is at his most effective  when draped completely in white, save – of course – for his highly polished black dress shoes (and, in truth, he favoured white even here, but feared such footwear was a trifle effeminate). White is striking by itself, but well he knew it made the perfect background for his medals and decorations.

He has trouble deciding upon which colour sash to wear across his chest, but finally chooses the emerald green – the reception is in the public gardens. He dons his silver-visored cap, and graces his bosom with the blue Clustered Palm of Valour; the diamond centered Star of Courage; the gold Pyramid of the Oaken Grove; and seven rows of bars and campaign medals.
There are no visiting Heads of State, so he need not be too brilliant.

DE

(image)http://images.csmonitor.com/csmarchives/2011/02/COLQ1.jpg?alias=standard_600x400

 

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