Remembrance Day: remembering those who objected

It's nearing the end of Remembrance Day. I'm going to take the opportunity to remember some people who are normally forgotten: the refuseniks, the conscientious objectors, those who refuse to fight and kill.

These are the people, as objectors for religious, political or other reasons, who refuse to heed the call to fight for King and country, Kaiser and fatherland or, indeed, God and Ulster/Ireland.

They're not just people from the pages of history. In recent times, Amnesty has campaigned on behalf of such people in the United States, Israel, Greece, Turkey and elsewhere, often imprisoned for refusing to fight, including in illegal wars.

One such person was my maternal grandfather, Francis Lilly. As family lore tells it, he refused repeated approaches from the British Army soliciting him to join up for the 1914-1918 War. He was a 23 year-old mechanic at the time of the outbreak of hostilities and, as such, had professional skills much in demand by the army.

Yet, he did not see the war of the three cousins – the King, the Kaiser and the Tsar – as his war.

He lived to tell the tale, get married and have children, including my late mother, Philomena. Tragically, as we know, those who followed the three cousins killed and died in their millions. Should we remember this with pride or with rage?

I'll remember my grandfather, who killed no-one.

If he had heeded the call, my grandfather would probably have been joining his local regiment in Enniskillen, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.  Two of their number who died on the green fields of France during 1914-1918 went by the locally unremarkable name of Willie McBride.

This, of course is the name of the young Private at the heart of that great, sorrowful, angry anti-war song by Scot, Eric Bogle, No Man's Land (although I have always known it as Green Fields of France):

On this day, it seems fitting to leave you with the lyrics from the last two verses:

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 in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

And I can't help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you '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.

And here's an unusual version of the song on YouTube (poignantly in English and German, with additional lyrics, and dedicated to the fallen of both sides) sung by Bogle and Wachol.

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