Sunday, 11 November 2012

Let us sleep now

There are many ways for cricketers to mark Remembrance Sunday.

They might recall the many cricketers who gave their life.  They might recall how central cricket was to the ideals of what many were fighting for, including some of the greatest writers to go through the war experience.  They might simply be silent and reflect.  For there is no end to the suffering and sacrifice.

This Remembrance Sunday, Fantasy Bob wishes to commend Benjamin Britten's War Requiem which was first heard just over 50 years ago this year.  It was first performed on 30 May 1962, having been commissioned to mark the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, which was built after the original fourteenth-century structure was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1940.

Britten was a pacifist and was granted conscientious objector status during the Second World War.  The Requiem reflects that stance - there is no triumphalism but there is no angry outburst against the madness of the struggle.  Only deeply felt humanity at the suffering and the dignity of human sacrifice.  It sets words from the traditional Latin Requiem Mass interwoven with nine poems by Wilfred Owen. Owen was serving as the commander of a rifle company when he was killed in action on 4 November 1918 one week before the Armistice.

Benjamin Britten is the most important British composer of the 20th Century and his War Requiem is among his greatest works.  Cricket does not feature in his works, although there have been those who imagined that his opera the Turn of the Screw might have something to with spin bowling.  Sadly it does not, it is a compelling ghost story.  But Britten was a cricketer - at least as a schoolboy and seems to have been proficient insofar as he was captain of his school team.

This link will take you to a full recording of the Requiem conducted by the composer itself.  It is played behind a silent film made by Derek Jarman in 1988 which tries (perhaps with mixed success) to show some of the experiences behind Owen's poetry.

The film is remarkable if for no other reason that it contains the final screen appearance of Laurence Olivier, who died in July 1989.  Olivier recites Owen's poem Strange Meeting at the start of the film.  The poem is set as part of the final movement of the requiem.

I am the enemy you killed, my friend.

I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . .


  1. By chance I happened to hear a radio interview this week with Jimmy Perry, creator of Dad's Army along with David Croft. Among the interesting nuggets of information was the revelation that two of the cast members, Arnold Ridley (Private Godfrey) and John Laurie (Private Fraser) had both seen action at the Somme, the former receiving a serious bayonet wound which troubled him for the rest of his life.
    Millions of others were not so fortunate and we rightly remember their sacrifice today.

    Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

    1. Many thanks for that - most interesting - FB also understands that others in the Dad's Army cast also saw active service including Clive Dunn.

  2. Clive Dunn was enlisted into the Royal Hussars in 1940 and spent many gruelling years as a POW in Germany, having been captured while serving in Greece.