30 June 2008

Some July 1st reading suggestions, and a twist

1.  "Proud to be Canadian".  From 2007, this post pretty much says it.

2.  "Commemoration Day 2006".  A wee bit of history. 

3.  "Newfoundland and the Great War: the beginnings".  A summary of a paper your humble e-scribbler has had in the works for the better part of two decades that covers the origins of Newfoundland's entry into the First World War. There's an article in the latest Newfoundland and Labrador Studies on the same subject, but frankly, having read it, it seems as though the fellow missed pretty much the entire story and fell back on the generally accepted - and wrong - accounts found in the secondary sources. 

4.  This is the 60th anniversary of the great exercise in democracy by which Newfoundland and Labrador threw in its lot with Canada. Don't expect to hear a single mention of this at any time this month, although we'll hear plenty about the 400th anniversary of Quebec City.  There's room in our history for two great national events. The second referendum, in which the ordinary men and women of Newfoundland and Labrador opted for responsible government as part of Canada, took place on July 22, 1948.

5.  As a last twist, and for all the stereotyped crud that you can find about Beaumont Hamel on July 1st, take with you as you leave a couple of songs popular among soldiers of the British Army during the Great War for Civilisation. 

It is almost trite to say that the Great War changed the countries that took part in it. 

For Newfoundland, it was the first national effort that was not sectarian in its organization or management.  It may have started out that way with the rush of volunteers from the paramilitary church brigades, and the townie establishment may have tried to corrupt it into another piece of sectarian trash, but the men who went to the trenches, who flew the stringbags and who sailed on all manner of ships crushed their efforts.

When they returned from the war, the country built them monuments at home and overseas, but the one which stands out is Memorial University.  The legacy of the men and women who served and those who died is in every person who has attended and graduated from that non-sectarian institution of thought and learning.  This would be a very different place had those men not chosen to establish the university as the memorial.

In the meantime, too, forget the stuff about heroics and all that.

Listen to the songs.  Like many, they take a well known church tune and claim ownership of it for the faceless Tommys. 

This version of the first song - Onward Joe Soap's Army -  contains one phrase that pops up in several popular songs during the war:  "the men who really did the job are dead and in their graves."

Simple words tell simple truths.

The second, Fred Karno's Army, is no less jarring.  Karno was a popular music hall comedian of the time and the song reflects the amateurism of the soldiers, at least at the start of their service. This version, from the 1967 film Oh! What a lovely war puts the soldiers' version against the original song in an appropriately unsettling arrangement.