Tales from the Island of Serendip
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In this he was by no means alone. Here, for example, is Frank Earle Schoonover's depiction of Sergeant York.

 

In October 1918, as a newly-promoted corporal, Alvin York was one of a group of seventeen soldiers assigned to infiltrate German lines and silence a machine gun position. After the American patrol had captured a large group of enemy soldiers, German small arms fire killed six Americans and wounded three. York was the highest ranking of those still able to fight, so he took charge. While his men guarded the prisoners, York attacked the machine gun position, killing several German soldiers with his rifle before running out of ammunition. Six German soldiers charged him with bayonets, and York drew his pistol and killed all of them. The German officer responsible for the machine gun position had emptied his pistol while firing at York but failed to hit him. This officer then offered to surrender and York accepted. York and his men marched back to their unit's command post with more than 130 prisoners.

 

By all accounts, York was a humble man and a genuine hero who ardently refused the limelight.

Alvin_C_York_Painting.jpg

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In keeping with this, is the war poetry of Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon, both of whom fought in the trenches. Sassoon himself was a decorated hero who became progressively more disillusioned as the war progressed. After the war ended, he threw his medals in the sea. His friend Wilfred Owen did not survive the war.

 

And this perhaps is the difference, that what Matania observed, they experienced. Perhaps we need both their words and his pictures to understand my grandfather's war.

2014_CSK_05289_0004_000(fortunino_matania_ri_a_scottish_regiment_in_the_village_of_loos_rescui).jpg

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It may be worth noting in passing that Matania painted war in glowing color.

MataniaSurrender.jpg

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Yet the vast majority were published in black and white, which perhaps, from our  perspective, seems more suited [as though it were shocking to make beauty out of suffering and slaughter].

09 Surrender.jpg

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War broke: and now the Winter of the world
With perishing great darkness closes in.
The foul tornado, centred at Berlin,
Is over all the width of Europe whirled,
Rending the sails of progress. Rent or furled
Are all Art's ensigns. Verse wails. Now begin
Famines of thought and feeling. Love's wine's thin.
The grain of human Autumn rots, down-hurled.

5bcd584cd7dd6efd8f0081a57b594b09.jpg

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For after Spring had bloomed in early Greece,
And Summer blazed her glory out with Rome,
An Autumn softly fell, a harvest home,
A slow grand age, and rich with all increase.
But now, for us, wild Winter, and the need
Of sowings for new Spring, and blood for seed.

Wilfred Owen

11a Into captivity, a scene in a belgian town.JPG

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Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

07 Green Howards at Menin Crossroads, oct 1914.jpg

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Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.-
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

fortunino_matania_ri_a_british_raid_on_the_german_lines_through_clouds_d5831161g.jpg

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In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie:
Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

9993316331.jpg

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Under his helmet, up against his pack,
After so many days of work and waking,
Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.

c207a4c2a15aebe5a6a3ce36d823072c.jpg

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There, in the happy no-time of his sleeping,
Death took him by the heart. There heaved a quaking
Of the aborted life within him leaping,
Then chest and sleepy arms once more fell slack.

8428227451_b5b21d6c7d_b.jpg

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And soon the slow, stray blood came creeping
From the intruding lead, like ants on track.

Matania-91986.jpg

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Whether his deeper sleep lie shaded by the shaking
Of great wings, and the thoughts that hung the stars,
High-pillowed on calm pillows of God's making,
Above these clouds, these rains, these sleets of lead,
And these winds' scimitars,
-Or whether yet his thin and sodden head
Confuses more and more with the low mould,
His hair being one with the grey grass
Of finished fields, and wire-scrags rusty-old,
Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold,
Than we who wake, and waking say Alas!

Wilfred Owen

2014_CSK_05289_0007_000(fortunino_matania_ri_with_the_british_office_in_the_ypres_salient_afte).jpg

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What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen

 

2014_CSK_05289_0009_000(fortunino_matania_ri_the_new_munition_workers_busily_engaged_in_turnin).jpg

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Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same--and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

2014_CSK_05289_0012_000(fortunino_matania_ri_a_field_of_great_sorrow_and_of_greater_glory_the).jpg

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Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench--
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

2014_CSK_05289_0001_000(fortunino_matania_ri_keeping_off_a_night_attack_on_the_western_front_a).jpg

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Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads--those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.

Seigfried Sassoon

MataniaF10-G.jpg

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War's a joke for me and you,
While we know such dreams are true.
- Siegfried Sassoon


Out there, we've walked quite friendly up to Death,-
Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland,-
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We've sniffed the green thick odour of his breath,-

Transport_of_wounded_from_bombed_town._Wellcome_L0008828.jpg

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Our eyes wept, but our courage didn't writhe.
He's spat at us with bullets and he's coughed
Shrapnel. We chorused when he sang aloft,
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.

SniperAlley.jpg

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Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier's paid to kick against His powers.

fortunino-matania-armistice-celebrations-jigsaw-puzzle-1000-pieces.47387-1.fs.jpg

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