War Poets inspire Christmas Spirit

War Poets inspire Christmas Spirit
2018-12-20

2018 has very much so been the year of the war poets in our First World War Remembrance activity. The words of Owen, Graves and Sassoon have echoed around the country's commemoration events. As we approach Christmas, it is appropriate to consider how the festive season inspired their work.   We often associate the First World War with the Christmas Day truce and the famous football match that took place between opposing German and British soldiers.

Research by Aberdeen academic Professor Thomas Weber has found that these truces perhaps happened more often than just 25 December 1914 however they were written out of history by worried commanders. 

The challenge of interpreting history is not made easy by these redactions and the same often applies to the poets writing about the war.

It has been difficult for me to interpret the letters of Wilfred Owen given so much was redacted during the war. Furthermore, Owen used codes!

In letters to his mother Owen often used 'mistletoe' as an alert that he was going to share his position in France. The second letter from the left in the next lines would indicate his position. We saw him telling his mother he was at the Somme and Serre for example. As he was self censoring he got away with it. Whilst our 'memory' of the war is one of horror and bloodshed, random acts of kindness and the spirit of goodwill to mankind existed. It had to - hate can only go so far.

My other area of interest has been the Scottish War Poets. We were able to add new knowledge to how Scottish War poet Ewart Alan Mackintosh died, next to my own great grandfather at Cambrai.

The poem "In No Man's Land" is perhaps most apt for this time of year. In the poem Mackintosh reflects on being in a crater no man’s land with a German soldier nearby him. The only reason Mackintosh knows of his enemy being so close is re fact he is coughing and sneezing. He clearly has the cold. Mackintosh finishes the poem with the humane lines: "I really can’t shoot a man with a cold." That spirit of humanity and goodwill to all sparked us to host an international concert with a global orchestra this year. Together thousands of musicians and supporters from 45 locations across the globe joined to play a new piece of music in harmony. The message of cooperation and creativity over conflict has been an apt end to centenary commemorations of the First World War and to the year.

It is a powerful message for the Christmas period and hopefully one which lasts into 2019.

 

Published by News, University of Aberdeen

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