WWI Beckons (Great Britain, Slovenia, Ireland)

For five years many nations have been marking the 100th anniversary of the years of WWI with postage stamps. We’ve forgotten most of those issues, just as that war is a thing of history to us—with no personal meaning. Today’s mass murders trouble us greatly, as they should, and yet WWI accounted for some 15 to 19 million military and civilian deaths—averaging more than 10,000 a day. And like all war, it didn’t have to be.

Those WWI commemorative stamps generally feature photographs of military personnel and monuments, but a few affected me.

In 2017 Great Britain issued a set of six WWI commemoratives. The four above spoke to me. The shattered red poppy told of peace shattered by war. Private Lemuel Thomas’ life-saving Bible was for me an ironic image. How many millions on both sides of this tragic conflict professed true faith in the Bible? The tombstones in Belgium, at stamp size anonymous, whisper wasted lives. And Isaac Rosenberg’s poetic words from Dead Man’s Dump of 1918, “Earth has waited for them, All the time of their growth,” testify to the human tragedy. (Rosenberg, an Orthodox Jew from Gloucestershire, was killed in 1918 after returning from a night patrol near Fampoux, France, most likely be a sniper.)

This year Slovenia issued a visually haunting interpretation of that endless field of tombstones. The ethereal shape created by the varying light and dark crosses are a mist of millions of lives lost…most now forgotten.

Also this year Poland, whose designers are known for graphic directness, presents us with the choice that faced nations 100 years ago: flowers or explosives. That choice continues to face us. Too often the decision is disastrous.

Ireland’s literary approach to Armistice Day is twice strong. Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s 1915 poem is familiar to many of us, and is always worth a reflective read:
  In Flanders fields the poppies blow
  Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place: and in the sky
  The larks, still bravely singing, fly
  Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Finally, from Thomas Kettle’s 1916 poem To My Daughter Betty, the Gift of God:
  Died not for flag, nor King,
  Nor Emperor, But for a dream,
  Born in a herdsman’s shed, And
  for the secret Scripture of the poor.
Kettle, a Member of Parliament, joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and died in 1916 on the Western Front.

Consider these stamps. Click the links above and read these poems in their entirety. Tell me what you think…and feel.

One thought on “WWI Beckons (Great Britain, Slovenia, Ireland)

  1. I’m ambivalent on the wisdom of issuing so many stamps about a war, any war. While they help us remember and hopefully learn from our past, we don’t seem to honor peace, efforts towards peace, and peacemakers with anything like the same zeal.

    My favorite from the GB series is the poetry stamp from the 2014
    issue. It is visible here: http://collectgbstamps.co.uk/explore/years/?year=2014#collectgbstamps-84 (give the image a few seconds to load). The way that the engraving on stone was simulated is just
    stunning. It really appears to have depth. I think overall
    Royal Mail did an excellent job with that issue. It’s one of the few
    recent ones that I bought, and I even bought the special sheet that they
    issued which collects all 30 stamps, even though I had them all in
    singles and prestige booklets.

    I haven’t really looked closely at other countries’ issues, so I
    appreciated seeing your post.

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