‘Hymn of Hate’ from Yesteryear’s Trenches
The other day I watched a very interesting movie that’s based on a true story that dates back to World War One. It not only describes the day-to-day drudgery of a soldier’s life in battle a century ago, but it brings to light what the troops did to pass the time between battles. As they say, war is a long stretch of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.
The 2013 movie is “The Wipers Times,” a story about the British 12th Battalion, known as The Sherwood Foresters, fighting against the Kaiser’s army in Belgium, in the heavily shelled town of Ypres. During a patrol, Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson and their troops found in a warehouse a piece of damaged machinery that changed their lives. Amid the clamorous chatter among the troops, only one soldier, a sergeant, admitted he knew what it was. Since he was a printer in civilian life before the war, he quickly identified the machine to be a printing press. A small one. He said he was confident that he could make it workable but why? What will we do with it?
With a mind to filling in downtime for the soldiers, Roberts and Pearson came up with the idea of printing a periodical to express their battlefront points of view. Thus The Wipers Times. Wipers was how the Tommies pronounced Ypres.
The Wipers Times became a popular though controversial trench periodical that was published by British soldiers fighting in Ypres during the First World War. From their trenches, they produced a poignant satirical newsletter that captured what was happening and reflected their spirit, hopes, joy, grief and frustration through prose, poetry and limericks.
Comparable satirical magazines throughout history have been Charlie Hebdo, Punch, Perets, Mad, Spy, The Onion, National Lampoon, The Harvard Lampoon and others.
Parodying their lives, battles, enemies and officers in words, stories and stanzas, the editors of The Wipers Times quickly became beloved by the troops and the bane of the officers, much like the storyline of “Good Morning, Vietnam” some five decades later. One senior officer who understood its battlefield value observed in response to a colleague that morale would be better served if the publication were not banned.
But the purpose of this article isn’t to relive the War to End all Wars with its glorious battles but rather to highlight one particular episode in the lives of The Sherwood Foresters and a melody sung by the enemy, the Germans.
One rainy night, Roberts and Pearson with their soldiers were reinforcing the muddy walls of their trenches. Artillery shells were bursting all around them, when suddenly through the explosions they heard the strains of the enemy singing a German-language battle song. That simply tells you how close both sides were to each other.
None of the British soldiers as well as Captain Roberts understood the words of the song but Lieutenant Pearson did. As the German’s sang, Pearson translated word for word what became known as the “Hymn of Hate.”
Its salient refrain states:
“An oath for our sons and their sons to take.
Come, hear the word, repeat the word,
Throughout the Fatherland make it heard.
We will never forego our hate,
We have all but a single hate,
We love as one, we hate as one,
We have one foe and one alone —
Indeed, two opposing sides, two nations harbor feelings of hatred to each other older than the war. Something from time immemorial must have instigated this detestation. And it continues until today. For example, the Scots boast that they have two favorite teams in the UEFA championships: obviously the Scots and any team playing against England.
Ukrainians have a similar rejoinder based on their national experiences at the hands of Russians.
Consequently, there are ancient ditties that transcend trenches and time and survive until today.
Yes, this animosity could be left in antiquity. This could end if the Russians would seek forgiveness for their crimes against Ukrainians. To paraphrase Willian Wallace’s point of seven centuries ago: “Lower your flags and march straight back to England, stopping at every home you pass by to beg forgiveness for a hundred years of theft, rape, and murder. Do that and your men shall live.”