Young Willie McBride, it all happened again…

V1 (1)So today, in 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. 70 years later can we look back and say we learned from that terrible time? I had dinner with my parents a couple of weeks ago and we talked about their memories of the war – of Doodlebugs, evacuations, air raid shelters, gas masks. It must have been a terrifying time to live through, not knowing how it would all pan out, whether Hitler would make his way to these shores, and what that invasion might bring. It was only 70 years ago.

Along with this news, and an interview with Dame Vera Lynn, I also saw on the news this morning that another young soldier had been killed in Afganistan. So what have we learned since 3rd September 1939? And now that our last remaining WW1 veteran has died, do we actually bring these lessons with us? It seems not. Humans are still used by governments as pawns in private power games.

Of all of the anti-war songs ever written these words of The Green Fields of France sum up my feelings about this day. I offer a prayer for all of the victims of war, past and present, and I will say again, not in my name.

Well, how do you do, Private William McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done.
And I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916,
Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the rifles fir o’er you as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

The sun’s shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that’s still No Man’s Land
The countless white crosses lie mute in the sand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

Young Willie McBride, I can’t help wonder why
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe when you answered “The Cause?”
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

8 responses to “Young Willie McBride, it all happened again…”

  1. I went to visit my great-grandfather’s grave a couple of years ago, in a desolate cemetery in the Aisne. I was the first person from my family ever to go there. His death caused such terrible consequences for his family, but looking at the gravestone and realising that he was younger than I was when he died in 1917, and that they did it all again thirty years later made it even more futile. The fact that they are still doing it makes these words even more poignant.

  2. Thanks Damh, these words certainly make you stop and think, they also got me thinking about The Pogues version of ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, a song I’ve loved for years although only realised today while trying to find it on the web, is also written by Eric Bogle, and just as piognant. Cheers again.

  3. Damh,

    Have you ever thought of recording this song? It strikes such a power chord in me every time I hear it. I would love to hear your version some day.

    Best always,

    David Shorey
    Sacramento, California

  4. This song is so moving,we visited two family ww1 war graves in France Aug 2010 and played this song at each grave while laying flowers,it seemed the correct thing to play at what was an emotional trip for the family…

  5. As an aside, this song was written by an Australian Eric Bogle but recorded by the Furies. There was apparently a near riot when the Irish were told that the song was Australian in origin – he was touring and played his song and they said he’d pinched it… he aslo wrote “and the Band played Waltzing Matilda” which I also recommend. I first heard this song in a history class at school. A very effective way to get the kids attention.

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