The Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month at the Eleventh Hour: 100 Years Since the End of WW1

Douaumont Ossuary and Cemetery of WW1 – Crosses facing the battlefield

By Father George W. Rutler 

Pier 54 on the Hudson River is a short walk from our church. On display are pictures of the Titanic and the Lusitania, which is not encouraging for public relations. The Titanic was supposed to berth there, but instead the Carpathia arrived with surviving passengers. Seven years before, my grandmother had sailed on the Carpathia.

The sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat brought the United States into the Great War. Film footage shows passengers arriving at Pier 54 to embark on May 1, 1915. Of the 1,962 passengers and crew on the Lusitania’s manifest, 1,198 died. Toscanini had planned to be on board, but took an earlier ship after bad reviews of his performance of Carmen. Jerome Kern missed the ship when his alarm clock failed—otherwise, we’d not have “Ol’ Man River” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” The dancer Isadora Duncan cancelled her ticket to save money, and the actress Ellen Terry backed off because of war jitters.

One casualty of the Lusitania sinking was Father Basil Maturin, Catholic chaplain at Oxford University, returning from a lecture tour. He spurned a lifeboat and gave away his life jacket. That was reminiscent of Monsignor John Chadwick, later pastor of the Church of Saint Agnes here in Manhattan, who barely survived the sinking of the Maine which incited the Spanish-American War. The monsignor was hailed as a hero by the sailors he saved.

If his chauffeur had not taken a wrong turn on the streets of Sarajevo in 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand might not have been assassinated, and the domino effect of national alliances would have not brought on the collapse of empires. At the Somme, more than one million troops were killed or wounded, and the war’s total casualties were 37.5 million dead or wounded. One year after the war, there was only one man between the ages of 18 and 30 for every 15 women. Each town and school in Britain has memorials to those lost. Both of my own grandmother’s brothers were killed in Ypres, and that was considered the norm. The United States lost 116,000 men with over 200,000 wounded. Europe has never really recovered. Military strategists were not prepared for modernized combat, and it has been said that the armies were lions led by donkeys. In a macabre way, the chief winners of that cultural suicide were Lenin and Hitler.

Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of the Armistice signaled by a bugle at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year. The poet Siegfried Sassoon, decorated for bravery, was latterly put in a psychiatric ward for begging an end to the killing. He became a Catholic and is buried near the grave of Monsignor Ronald Knox whom he admired. In tribute to one of his fallen comrades, he wrote:

I know that he is lost among the stars,
And may return no more but in the light… “of the Son reflected on them” (ABYSSUM)

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Let us remember to pray for the repose of all souls, especially those who are long dead and forgotten, that they may have eternal rest and be freed from any torments in Purgatory.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; And let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen

O Lord, who art ever merciful and bounteous with Thy gifts, look down upon the suffering souls in Purgatory. Remember not their offences and negligences, but be mindful of Thy loving mercy, which is from all eternity. Cleanse them of their sins and fulfill their ardent desires that they may be made worthy to behold Thee face to face in Thy glory. May they soon be united with Thee and hear those blessed words which will call them to their heavenly home: “Come, blessed of My Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

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Somme Battlefields: sunset at Courcelette

This moving poem below was allegedly written at the return of soldiers from the First Workd War after the signing of the Armistice:

Everyone Sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
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