“The silence of the guns was like the voice of God.” – my friend Chris Santiago paraphrasing Kurt Vonnegut’s thoughts on Armistice Day.
The actual quote is more powerful, yet not quite as lyrical:
“It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.”
The silence was not like the voice of God…
…it was the voice of God.
It is strange to me that World War One is the 20th century’s forgotten war. Do they even teach it in schools at all anymore? They barely touched on it when I was in school. It’s almost as if we have already decided as a species that it is better off unremembered – though I respectfully disagree with that decision.
Winston Churchill on the “butchery” mentioned above: “All the horrors of the ages were brought together, and not only armies but whole populations were thrust into the midst of them…The wounded died between the lines: The dead mouldered into the soil. Merchant ships and neutral ships and hospital ships were sunk on the seas…Every effort was made to starve whole nations into submission…When all was over, torture and cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilised, scientific Christian states had been able to deny themselves, and they were of doubtful utility.”
The fact that the “civilised, scientific Christian state” that I call home nowadays regularly uses torture as a battle tactic confirms the fact that we have decided to forget the lessons our grandfather’s fathers tried to teach us
The last cricket match to take place before Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo took place in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, from 27 February through 3 March 1914 at St George’s Park – the same ground where 99 years later we all saw South Africa defeat Sri Lanka earlier today….
In 1914 the South Africa’s competition was not Sri Lanka, but England – and the visitors crushed their hosts by ten wickets thanks to a century for Phil Mead and devastating bowling from the whole of England’s bowlers: five South Africans got out in the single digits in their first innings; and eight fell for single digits in their second. If not for a 129 run opening partnership from South Africa’s Herbie Taylor and Billy Zulch in the second innings, the result would have been far more lopsided.
After Sir Jack Hobbs scored the 11 runs needed for the victory that Southern Hemisphere summer afternoon, there was no more cricket until long after the guns had fallen silent – December 1920 at the Sydney Cricket Ground to be exact.
In between Port Elizabeth and Sydney, there would be 9.7 million military deaths and 5.8 million civilian deaths (either directly or indirectly): nearly two percent of the world’s population.
Among the dead were some of the cricketers who played in the Test match that Summer in Port Elizabeth:
Major Booth (England) scored 32 and took five wickets, including a 4-fer in the second innings, killed on 1 July 1916 in France – the opening day of the Somme offensive.
Reginald Hands (South Africa) scored seven total runs (0,7) in what would prove to be his one and only Test match, killed on the Western Front 20 April 1918.
Bill Lundie (South Africa) only scored one run in what would also be his one and only Test, but he did take 4-106 in the first innings while bowling into a strong wind, killed in Belgium 12 September 1917.
Claude Newberry (South Africa) scored 11 in the first innings and only one in the second, but he did take a wicket, breaking up the dangerous Mead-Woolley first innings partnership – killed 1 August 1916 in France.
And that doesn’t begin to discuss those cricketers that played in that match, fought in the war, but were lucky enough to make it out alive – though very few of them would surely consider themselves “lucky” to have seen the horrors on the Western Front. Nor does it include the coaches and supporters and the ticket takers at the ground that day who fought and died in some foreign field nearly 6,000 miles from their homes.
World War One has a lot to teach us – I am going to use cricket as a backdrop and try to learn as much as I can.