O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Brad Birzer wrote:  
“love one another. Be good to one another. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. It’s not enough to say “I love you.” Show it, mean it, live it. Does your neighbor need a friendly ear? Does the homeless man (for whatever reason he’s homeless) need a crust of bread? Does that stray cat need to be loved? After all, even that skanky cat is a creature made by God for a purpose beyond mere existence. Every time one of my cats jumps in my lap and distracts me from writing, I am reminded that EVERY living creature has a purpose. “

Brad Birzer wrote “we’re all going to die. Yes, gentle reader, I mean YOU. You will die. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but someday. When Edmund Burke passed away, he gave a rousing speech.

Never succumb to the enemy; it is a struggle for your existence as a nation; and if you die, die with the sword in your hand; there is a salient, living principle of energy in the public mind of English which only requires proper direction to enable her to withstand this or any other ferocious foe; persevere till this tyranny be overpast.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

I know the feeling on thinking perhaps people are waiting for me in the great beyond. Some years ago while I was coming out of cancer surgery at Cedar Sinai hospital I had this strange dream that I was visiting World War One battlefields, Ypres in particular. In the dream I walked into the past and into the trenches -it was so very real -i could smell the cordite and hear the rata-tat-tat of the machine guns And I saw my grandfather in the trench wearing his kilt and glengarry. (Auld Pop) and I spoke with Auld Pop and his comrades in the Argylls. He looked at me and said only, “your time has not come yet.” Then ,in my dream, I was wounded on the wrist and in the armpit with shrapnel and taken away quickly by stretcher. When I started coming to the nurse said I was talking about strange place names and how I had to get back to the front. It was a very vivid dream. Had I come close to the shadowline of death?

The Ants. These Men of Company A, -the Ants- the Scottish Pals who volunteered for King and Country in August 1914 to join the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the famous “Thin Red Line of Heroes.” And heroic they were. They fought on the Western Front, they fought at Ypres, they fought in Greece and Bulgaria and ended up the war occupying Constantinople. These are some of the who held the Ypres Salient for 36 continuous days of combat under constant German attack. One thinks: “Where did they get the mettle and the grit to hold on and fight so tenaciously?” To the far right is “American” Johnny Robertson, a naturalized American citizen who worked for Thomas Edison before the war, in the back to the left is Jimmy Quigley my grandfather’s nephew and next to Johnny Robertson is Auld Pop, Thomas Munro, Sr. MM April 1915. He was decorated by his company commander Captain Dick MacDonald Porteous who was himself killed May 10, 1915. Ne obliviscaris. Do not forget. My father and mother and uncle knew Johnny Robertson well as well as Jimmy Quigley. As a boy I knew my grandfather and I can hear his voice now.

My mother also visits me sometimes in my dreams. I think of our last moments together when we said the Hail Mary and the Our Father she taught me together and how weak her hand was. I remember her telling me that her death would be harder for me because I would have long years of waiting but she would be there just on the other side. That she would see her father Eric Anderson whom she never knew. He was killed on August 8, 1918. We named our daughter Erica after her great grandfather. Our son Ian is named after Captain Ian Munro, MC killed October 30, 1918. Ne obliviscaris. Do not forget.

Some say there is nothing after death but nothingness. But I think life, dreams and love prove otherwise. Men die but their families and communities live on. Men die but their immortal souls linger. We are a community and we remember others and we retain in deepest gratitude a profound respect for the dignity and worth, the deep love, the unbreakable loyalty in the actions and the sacrifices of others who struggle now and who came before us. It is difficult to retain tradition and a respect for tradition in an indifferent and sometimes hostile world. But I like to think something always remains. Some things are passed on. You cannot command these things. All you can do is carry the tattered banner in your lifetime and remember and love and tell people the story. But they have to choose to remember and listen. The young are so busy and so distracted by the Pied Pipers of technology that one feels we have spawned an alien race, a race that knows not character, nor loyalty, nor modesty nor respect.

However, Christians must have hope and optimism about the future.

We must believe the demons will be conquered and what we are experiencing is a mortal storm even if there are some casualties. Maybe, this time, ourselves. Auld Pop, Captain Ian Munro, Eric Anderson and Ruthie Munro all faced greater challenges with fewer resources and medical technologies we have today. Some survived 1918 and some did not.

Lochaber No More by John Watson Nicol
Emigration and exile are common themes in Irish and Scottish songs:

“Castles are sacked in war
and Chieftains are scattered far
But truth and honor are fix-ed stars.

And when it comes down to it prayer and daily praise of God is a very key response. Today some people would like to blot out the harshness of human evil and natural disaster and divorce God from it all. They would demand that God end all suffering, disease and injustice and until he does that they would not consider him worthy of praise.

The Auld Book teaches us instead about our continual need to struggle for life and what is right what proclaiming only God can accomplish it. Thomas Munro, Sr. was a watchman in the trenches for many a dark night and many a dark day 1914-1919. He saw friends and allies killed and blasted to smithereens all around him. Psalm 117 he said: “Except for the Lord the watchman waketh in vain.” He did not fear death because Lady Death was always near. He almost expected to die a hundred times.

Auld Pop was a loyal man. Loyal to his family, his country, his flag, his regiment. When the Communists came to his neighborhood to damn his service to damn his religion and damn his country he never wavered. To have wavered would have been to be disloyal to his wife, her church, his family, his fallen comrades, his country and the Allied Cause. He was loyal to his God and he knew God required of him a personal response of loyalty, affection obedience and communication. He had no job when the war was over and didn’t know where to turn. To join Willie Gallacher, his erstwhile friends and the Communists? His pal “American Johnny Robertson” convinced him to come with him to America and stay clear of the Reds. That friendship that decision changed all of our lives mostly for the good.

While under the guns he and his nephew Jimmy Quigley held on the rosary and prayed continuously to God. He told the amusing story how his pal Johnny Robertson, a man who was a freethinker and never darkened the door of a church if he could help it saw them together praying with the Padirin (the rosary) and came over to them and said for the first time in his life, “Gie me them beads!” And the three of them huddled together under the withering German fire. Seconds later the place where Johnny had been was blown away and everyone to the left of them had been killed. All Johnny could say, was” Munro, it looks to me you are one lucky bastard. I am staying here!” Auld Pop replied, “Ye hae to save yer luck for when it counts. Sooner or later everyone rolls snake-eyes. Aye. If it God’s will we survive this warrr then we will surrrvive. Och, Aye!”

They were prepared to die every day but were never alone.

They knew, one way or another, they had to carry on, they had to survive not for themselves alone but for their families, the Allied Cause and for freedom.

direct descendants of Eric Anderson (killed 1918) and Thomas Munro, Sr (Auld Pop) enjoying Thanksgiving in America. Auld Pop left school to go to sea at age 8; his son Thomas Munro Jr. became an officer in the USA Army, graduated from Brooklyn College and got an MBA at NYU on the GI Bill. His great-grandchildren are two teachers and on engineer. His grandchildren all graduated from college. His sister’s great-granddaughter graduated from West Point as a US Army officer.

They knew from personal experience that no one is untouched by tragedy. One day they ambushed a German platoon and wiped it out. Most of the fallen German soldiers were boys no more than 16 years old. It haunted my grandfather for the rest of his life. He killed many enemy soldiers but those deaths affected him the most. He would dream about their faces and be tormented thinking they might have been able to take some prisoners but they were outnumbered and terrified so they killed.

My grandfather was a very gentle and kind man. He suffered a lot in his life -war, unemployment, exile, the early death of his wife of 32 years but tragedy reminded him to be compassionate and not to inflict pain and suffering on others for no reason. One of the great lessons of suffering is how we respond to it.

I think back on Auld Pop and think he was asked to suffer and endure the unacceptable. One by one almost all his Scottish pals of August 1914 were killed, invalided out or horribly maimed. Until there were only three left. One Johnny Robertson survived without a scratch. He returned to Scotland in 1938 marry the widow of a former comrade he had been supporting while working in America. And his fate? Johnny was killed in his own bed, in his own house by the Nazi Blitz of the Clyde in May 1941. When my grandfather got the telegram in America he had a complete breakdown and went on drunken spree and nobody knew where he was for days. When my father and uncle found him at 222 Dean St in Brooklyn where he used to live with Johnny Robertson in the 1920’s and he insisted Johnny was there just upstairs and he couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let him in.

My father told him, “Pop, Johnny is dead. Here is the telegram. Come home, Pop. Mother is waiting for you. She is worried sick.” Auld Pop broke down and wept uncontrollably. He recovered and went on to build ships for the Allies six and seven days a week for years.

Tragedy in our lives can force us to endure and discover resources that we never imagined we had. “Many a good horseman has fallen off and gotten back on again,” Auld Pop used to say.

Spiritual power is an inner strength that manifests itself in this world as the ability to transcend danger and fear of death. “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The Words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63) . When I was a small boy I asked Auld Pop if he had been afraid of dying in battle. He said, “Och, I was too busy to think on it, to tell ye the trrrruth. My greatest fear, I think was failure. Letting doon the other lads. Letting doon the Regiment. My country. The Allied Cause. We held on to the tiniest part of Little Belgium and the Hun never took the Ypres Salient. Aye, we held. We did our duty to King and Country and the Allied Cause. ” He took some satisfaction in that and the service during the Second World War building ships for the Allies. He loved to speak of the Immortal memory of Robert Burns but in a way he spoke of his native land and his Regiment, that “Thin Red Line of Heroes” the same way. Auld Pop knew when he died he would not be forgotten; he knew he was loved. He knew there were no monuments to HIM but in a way the whole world was a monument to his comrades, to his Regiment and to his generation that fought and won two world wars.

He knew that Good would triumph over Evil in the end. He knew that faith and spiritual power could transcend the material world and its evils especially if we cultivated the deathless part ourselves. He taught me his regimental motto in 1959: “Ne obliviscaris….do not forget.”

Leal n’ true until the very end. When Auld Pop returned home to Scotland, briefly in 1919 -he spent most of his adult life in exile-the Regimental band played THE SOLDIER’S RETURN. It was my father’s first memory of his father and he recounted it many times. His mother Mary said: TOMMY, THIS IS YOUR DADDY and he saw a big giant of a man in a kilt, with a glengarry on his head and medals on his chest. He was glad he was not one of the fatherless wee babes:

When wild war’s deadly blast was blawn,
And gentle peace returning,
Wi’ mony a sweet babe fatherless,
And mony a widow mourning;
I left the lines and tented field,
Where lang I’d been a lodger,
My humble knapsack a’ my wealth,
A poor and honest sodger.
“The wars are o’er, and I’m come hame,
And find thee still true-hearted;
Tho’ poor in gear, we’re rich in love,
And mair we’se ne’er be parted.”
Quo’ she, “My grandsire left me gowd,
A mailen plenish’d fairly;
And come, my faithfu’ sodger lad,
Thou’rt welcome to it dearly!”

For gold the merchant ploughs the main,
The farmer ploughs the manor;
But glory is the sodger’s prize,
The sodger’s wealth is honor:
The brave poor sodger ne’er despise,
Nor count him as a stranger;
Remember he’s his country’s stay,
In day and hour of danger.

The Argyll monument at YPRES has an inscription La a’bhlair, ‘s math na cairdean ON THE DAY OF BATTLE ‘TIS GOOD TO HAVE FRIENDS.AYE, ‘S truth. It also says CRUACHAN -its a famous Munro (mountain) in Scotland that many an Argyll and his kin has climbed. It’s a symbol of the lands of the Mountains white high covered with snow -Alba. Sair ghaisgich a cogaidh mhoir (BRAVE WARRIORS of the GREAT WAR)

Na Laoich a chaidh romhainn

(THE HEROES WHO CAME BEFORE US) ne obliviscaris…do not forget.

monument to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at 2nd Ypres

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