Thursday, 12 July 2007

Known unto God

At this time 90 years ago, the biggest slaughter of the First World War was under way at Passchendaele. In less than four months of battle, half a million soldiers were slaughtered, wounded or posted missing. There's a brilliant history of the battle, along with details of how it is being remembered in this anniversary year, here.

The queen was at the Tyne Cot cemetery in Belgium today, along with the Duke of Edinburgh, Belgian royals and other dignitaries, at the official ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of this battle (officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres). Today was chosen for the ceremony because it was on 12 July 1917 that the Germans first used mustard gas.

There are 12,000 graves and 35,000 names of missing soldiers engraved on memorial walls at Tyne Cot, situated on a ridge captured by Australian forces during the battle in 1917. In nearby Ypres (now known as Ieper), a further 55,000 names of missing soldiers are engraved on the Menen Gate war memorial.

More than 200,000 British, German and French soldiers have no known grave in the area. About half of this number are simply remembered with the words “Known unto God,” "Unbekannt" or "Inconnu'". Today, ninety years later, human remains are still being found. In most cases the nationality can be determined, occasionally the name of the regiment, and in some rare cases even the identity of the soldier.

I love that English phrase - "Known unto God". These soldiers died in a sea of mud, sent to their deaths by inept generals, many coughing their lungs up in a haze of mustard gas. They died in agony, and their bodies have never been recovered. But they're not unknown, and whether they knew it or not, they didn't die alone. God knows who they were.

1 comment:

Jennifer F. said...

This is such a nice post. Thanks!