Saturday 13 November 2010

In Remembrance - The Rhetoric of Duty and Honour

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row...


Wishes and Some Hard Truths.

Major-General O. S. W. Nugent, D.S.O. (A.D.C. to his Majesty the King), the General Officer Commanding the Ulster Division, sent the following Xmas message to the people of Ulster through the medium of the "Belfast News-Letter":--

You have done me the honour of asking me to contribute a message as representing the Ulster Division.

A message to the people of Ulster from Ulster's Division must contain, besides greetings and good wishes, some hard truths.

For this is the position as it stands to-day between the Ulster Division and those of its own kin at home.

When the people of Ulster in 1914 promised a Division to the service of King and country, no finer body of men than those who redeemed the promise were raised in any portion of the King's dominions.

Cheerful under all circumstances, self-respecting, steadfast in their bearing, most gallant in attack, Ulstermen in France and Belgium have earned a high reputation, even amongst the magnificent soldiers of the Empire, of which Ulster may legitimately be proud.

The morning of the 1st July will be one of the glories of the Province as long as men love to think of gallant deeds.

Will there be an element of shame in the memory amongst the thousands of lusty young Ulstermen at home?

They have no part as yet in the honour of the real manhood of Ulster. They will have no part in the future when the Ulster Division comes home to enjoy the respect and esteem earned by those who have seen the path of duty and have followed it even to the end.

But if they have no part now, they need not be without it. Every man can still redeem his birthright and take a man's share in the work of the deliverance of mankind from Prussian barbarism.

He need not fear being asked why he had tarried so long upon the road. He will be welcomed as an Ulsterman, and he will find himself a better and a happier man from the knowledge that he has done his duty.

Christmas is a time of memories, when families are reunited and friends meet again. Years hence Ulster will still be keeping green the memory of those whose work out here is not nearly finished yet.

Young men at home still have their chance. Do they not want to be able to look their countrymen in the face, here and at home?

Do they not realise that there will be tens of thousands of men throughout the Empire who have answered the call of duty, and that the terms on which all able-bodied young men will associate together after the war will largely turn on the answer which can be given to the question: "What did you do in the war?"

For Ireland's sake, all who love her must hope that the community at large will insist that the stain upon her national pride and self-respect shall he removed, and that the contempt which Ireland is heaping up for herself shall give place to the mutual esteem which is creating a daily stronger bond of fellowship between the soldiers of the Empire in France and Belgium. There is only one way to gain membership, and that is not by the road upon which Ireland is drifting leaderless to-day.

The Ulster Division is growing stronger day by day, but its ranks are being filled by Englishmen and Scotchmen -- men who have not shirked duty, and who have done for Ulster what she has, as yet, failed to do for herself.

The young men of Ulster are capable of great achievements. The whole of the history of the province is one of achievements. It is in the earnest hope that its young men will make yet another advance on the road of honour and duty that this message is written.

(Lisburn Standard, 29 December 1916)


     "Your King and country need you" to aid the cause of Right;
     does loyal impulse lead you to arm yourself and fight?
     Are you ignobly skulking, your motto, "Safety First,"
     when woe is largely hulking, and foemen's bombshells burst?
     The country's stress produces men great of soul, I wist,
     while you invent excuses for failing to enlist.
     You have an aching finger, you have a spavined toe,
     and that is why you linger and see your neighbours go.
     When weapons cease to rattle, aud peace has come to men;
     when from the fields of battle the boys come home again;
     when heroes tell their stories of struggles past and done,
     of sufferings and glories, and triumphs hardly won,
     how shall the shirker harken to that, and save his face?
     He'll feel the shadows darken, the shadows of disgrace.
     Who'll heed his explanation, when, sore, he reels it off:
     "I wished to help the nation, but had the whooping cough!
     My martial spirit tingles, and I to war would jump,
     but I was down with shingles, a measle and a mump!"
     Your King and country need, you, their banner to protect;
     go, let a German bleed you, and gain some self-respect.

(Lisburn Standard, 3 November 1916)

Images: Poppy Garden by Jan Blencowe; The Attack of the Ulster Division by J.P. Beadle in Belfast City Hall.

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