Tuesday, November 11, 2008

They Called It Passchendaele

A short time ago I borrowed a book off Clare called 'They Called It Passchendaele'. I have known about this book for quite some time now but hadn't had the chance to read it until now. It incorporates first-hand accounts from the men and women who were there into the text and I'm enjoying it immensely. One short anecdote stands out in my mind. Since this is Remembrance Day, I thought I'd share it here. This little episode surely highlights the irony of war like few other accounts I have read.

During a lead-up engagement, known as the Battle of Menin Road, Corporal Nick Lee of the British Tank Corps was attempting to unditch a tank along the Menin Road outside the Belgian town of Ypres. The tank that Corporal Lee was working on took a direct hit from a German artillery piece, obliterating it. Miraculously, Lee was thrown clear of the tank, unscathed. His crew then came under attack from a group of German infantry sheltered in a nearby pillbox and began returning fire. Lee opened up on the pillbox with one of the tanks machine guns. A few minutes after the German guns fell silent, he saw a German sergeant rise up and wave to him. The man had taken a bullet in the leg. Lee then mounted a rescue effort to aid the man he had just shot to get medical attention. As a result of this action Lee was awarded the Military Medal.

Both Lee and the German Sergeant, a man named Jeff Lerner, survived the war. They actually met each other a second time following World War II. Lee and his wife looked Lerner up while on vacation in Munich where Lerner was a university professor close to retirement. Lee never revealed to Lerner that he had been awarded the Military Medal for his actions that day long before but the two men did keep up a regular correspondence for the duration of their lives.

War is indeed a strange business.