by Kathy Waller
Today is Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, when we remember the men and women of the military to whom we cannot say, “Thank you.”
There are many stories about when and where Memorial Day, formerly called Decoration Day, began. Originally, it honored soldiers fallen during the Civil War, and was first officially celebrated in 1868.
Wikipedia, however, points to an earlier beginning: “On May 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC, formerly enslaved African Americans honored hundreds of Black soldiers who were killed in the Civil War but who were buried in a mass grave. They unearthed the bodies and gave each a proper burial and held a parade in the soldiers’ honor. This is the first major honoring of fallen soldiers that is believed to have begun the tradition.”
In honor of the day, I’ve chosen a poem by British poet and novelist Thomas Hardy.
The Man He Killed
By Thomas Hardy
“Had he and I but met By some old ancient inn, We should have sat us down to wet Right many a nipperkin!
“But ranged as infantry, And staring face to face, I shot at him as he at me, And killed him in his place.
“I shot him dead because — Because he was my foe, Just so: my foe of course he was; That’s clear enough; although
“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps, Off-hand like — just as I — Was out of work — had sold his traps — No other reason why.
“Yes; quaint and curious war is! You shoot a fellow down You’d treat if met where any bar is, Or help to half-a-crown.”
Wartime provides the setting for many books, movies, plays, and television films in the mystery genre. Among them:
My Boy Jack (Television film based on play by Daniel Haig) (Link leads to complete film on Youtube.) The title My Boy Jack comes from a poem written by Rudyard Kipling for Jack Cornwell, “the 16 year old youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross who stayed by his post on board ship during the battle of Jutland until he died.” The poem “echoes the grief of all parents who lost sons in the First World War. John Kipling was a 2nd Lt in the Irish Guards and disappeared in September 1915 during the Battle of Loos in the First World War.” His body was never found. (Wikipedia). Haig’s play deals with Kipling’s grief at the loss of his son.