Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The United Kingdom and World War I

On Saturday I got my stamp orders from Croatia, Hungary and the United Kingdom. Among the British stamps I ordered is this year's set of six stamps about the Centenary of World War I (issued 31-07-2017).

The first stamp shows the artwork Shattered Poppy by John Ross. For this artwork John Ross froze freshly cut poppies and broke the brittle petals with a metal rod. 

The second stamp shows a stanza of Dead Man’s Dump by Isaac Rosenberg. Isaac Rosenberg was a British painter and poet. He arrived at the Western Front in the summer of 1916.

Dead Man’s Dump

The plunging limbers over the shattered track 
Racketed with their rusty freight, 
Stuck out like many crowns of thorns, 
And the rusty stakes like sceptres old 
To stay the flood of brutish men 
Upon our brothers dear. 

The wheels lurched over sprawled dead 
But pained them not, though their bones crunched, 
Their shut mouths made no moan. 
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman, 
Man born of man, and born of woman, 
And shells go crying over them 
From night till night and now. 

Earth has waited for them, 
All the time of their growth 
Fretting for their decay: 
Now she has them at last! 
In the strength of their strength 
Suspended—stopped and held. 

What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit? 
Earth! have they gone into you! 
Somewhere they must have gone, 
And flung on your hard back 
Is their soul’s sack 
Emptied of God-ancestralled essences. 
Who hurled them out? Who hurled? 

None saw their spirits’ shadow shake the grass, 
Or stood aside for the half used life to pass 
Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth, 
When the swift iron burning bee 
Drained the wild honey of their youth. 

What of us who, flung on the shrieking pyre, 
Walk, our usual thoughts untouched, 
Our lucky limbs as on ichor fed, 
Immortal seeming ever? 
Perhaps when the flames beat loud on us, 
A fear may choke in our veins 
And the startled blood may stop. 

The air is loud with death, 
The dark air spurts with fire, 
The explosions ceaseless are. 
Timelessly now, some minutes past, 
Those dead strode time with vigorous life, 
Till the shrapnel called ‘An end!’ 
But not to all. In bleeding pangs 
Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home, 
Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts. 

Maniac Earth! howling and flying, your bowel 
Seared by the jagged fire, the iron love, 
The impetuous storm of savage love. 
Dark Earth! dark Heavens! swinging in chemic smoke, 
What dead are born when you kiss each soundless soul 
With lightning and thunder from your mined heart, 
Which man’s self dug, and his blind fingers loosed? 

A man’s brains splattered on 
A stretcher-bearer’s face; 
His shook shoulders slipped their load, 
But when they bent to look again 
The drowning soul was sunk too deep 
For human tenderness. 

They left this dead with the older dead, 
Stretched at the cross roads. 

Burnt black by strange decay 
Their sinister faces lie, 
The lid over each eye, 
The grass and coloured clay 
More motion have than they, 
Joined to the great sunk silences. 

Here is one not long dead; 
His dark hearing caught our far wheels, 
And the choked soul stretched weak hands 
To reach the living word the far wheels said, 
The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light, 
Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels 
Swift for the end to break 
Or the wheels to break, 
Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight. 

Will they come? Will they ever come? 
Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules, 
The quivering-bellied mules, 
And the rushing wheels all mixed 
With his tortured upturned sight. 
So we crashed round the bend, 
We heard his weak scream, 
We heard his very last sound, 
And our wheels grazed his dead face.

The third stamp shows Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm. The two friends Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm travelled to Belgium shortly after the beginning of World War I, where they joined a small ambulance corps. They later established a front-line first-aid post at Pervyse in Belgium. In 1917 they were awarded the Military Medal.

The fourth stamp shows the painting Dry Docked for Scaling and Painting by Edward Wadsworth. Edward Wadsworth was invalided in 1917. From then on he was engaged to design dazzle camouflage patterns for British ships, which were intended to confuse attacking German submarines.

The fifth stamp shows the Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. The Tyne Cot Cemetery was established in 1917 and is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the World. There are 11976 war graves of World War I. The cemetery is surrounded by the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, a long stone wall with the names of missing soldiers written on it.

The last stamp shows Private Lemuel Thomas Rees’s life-saving Bible. Lemuel Thomas Rees was conscripted in 1917. During the Battle of Passchendaele an exploding German shell landed close by and although Rees was hit, he was saved by a small Bible that he kept in his breast pocket. He had to spend four months in a field hospital. Then he was send back home, but as he suffered terrible nightmares, he returned to the front. There he was wounded in a gas attack and died on 13th November 1918.

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