Monuments by Stan Skrzeszewski

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Pro Patria Mori Cairn Marker, Fort Erie. Photo by Dale K. Benington. 153 soldiers are buried here, including members of the De Watteville Regiment

My Father told me
To follow Napoleon
It will lead to fame,
Fortune and freedom
Just not for my country

So we fought in Italy, Russia
Spain and San Domingo
And in Canada and America
At Chateauguay and Oswego
Plattsburgh and Fort Erie

As corpses,
Many of us floated down the Niagara River
Or were laid to rest in a mass grave
Under the “Pro Patria” column
But not my “patria,” not my glory

Last summer,
That monument was sad
On that grey day, twigs and leaves underfoot
And a smiling Tim Horton’s coffee cup
On granite that no longer shone in the sun

In Victoria Memorial Square in Toronto
There stands a not quite-complete old soldier
Representing those glorious 1812 regiments
And as an almost-forgotten after thought
“And the Wattsville Regiment [misspelt], Coloured Corps & Indians”

Everyone who played a part is dead and forgotten
A few footnotes in unread histories
No welcoming parades greeted the Poles of 1812
This we have in common with the Poles of 1945
That and the ongoing struggle for recognition

On what ships did we sail?
What paths did we go down?
Did we build homes and churches?
What became of us?
No one knows

All that remains of us
A plaque in Perth, an island in the St. Lawrence
And a Manitoba-shaped plaque
In Bird’s Hill Park,
Near Selkirk, which even the park staff couldn’t find

Yet our monument, our immortality
Has been finally granted in these few staged words
Out of a fading sense of patriotic duty,
Of remembrance,
Respect for our ever-present honourable ghosts

That and the recorded toasts after Oswego
“What harmony, What coolness, What confidence” they said
And at Fort Erie a young De Watteville re-enactor
Who bravely defended our honour
Two hundred years after the fact
When challenged said with feeling:

            “We charged Snake Hill five times!”

Source: Stan Skrzeszewski. Creative Memories: In Honour of the Polish Soldiers Who Died at the Battle of Fort Erie. London, Ont. : Stan Skrzeszewski, 2015

See other poems from Creative Memories

Stan Skrzeszewski is a writer of poetry, short stories, plays and even one libretto. He also serves as a curator at the Orlinski Museum and Archives of the Polish Armed Forces. In another life, Stan was a librarian, management consultant and a facilitator of philosopher’s cafes. The son of a Polish Veteran and Scottish War Bride, he feels a passionate need to record history.

Snake Hill by Stan Skrzeszewski

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Bodies of 28 U.S. soldiers were found at Snake Hill in 1987 and repatriated to Bath National Cemetery in Bath, NY.

Snake Hill is a hill that was
If you look for it you won’t find it
Where it stood, houses now stand
But no longer on a hill
There are no snakes, no hill
On Snake Hill

There is no plaque to identify the once sandy outcrop
But the space it occupied is still there
Right on Lake Erie
Where it rushes into the Niagara River

The sense of courage, agony and death
Still lingers there,
Two hundred years ago
Brave British Regiments
Including the Poles of De Watteville
Charged Towson’s Battery
And the brave American soldiers
Occupying Fort Erie
And that sandy hill
Repulsed them
But not before many died
Before Snake Hill
Some floated down the river
Many are buried
Beneath the stone monument
“Pro Patria”

Yet, I wonder
Did some swim the river?
Fight the current
Escape the bullets
Make that choice
For freedom
Some would have failed
Wounded, they drowned
But I hope at least one made it
Made that return trip
Got on that Freedom Train
Followed that Southern Cross
To a new life

Source: Stan Skrzeszewski. Creative Memories: In Honour of the Polish Soldiers Who Died at the Battle of Fort Erie. London, Ont. : Stan Skrzeszewski, 2015

See other poems from Creative Memories

Stan Skrzeszewski is a writer of poetry, short stories, plays and even one libretto. He also serves as a curator at the Orlinski Museum and Archives of the Polish Armed Forces. In another life, Stan was a librarian, management consultant and a facilitator of philosopher’s cafes. The son of a Polish Veteran and Scottish War Bride, he feels a passionate need to record history.

Read about the Attack on Snake Hill

To the Year 1812 by Stan Skrzeszewski

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Stan Skrzeszewski wearing a replica War of 1812 British Army uniform. Image courtesy of the author

To soldiers thou art the year of war
Men tell your stories
And sing of thy glories
Poets speak of thee
Filling hearts with strange premonitions
And memorable distinctions
That was Canada in the Year 1812

Note from Stan Skrzeszewski: With thanks to Adam Mickiewicz, Pan Tadeusz, trans by Watson Kirkconell (University of Toronto Press, 1962), 311

Source: Stan Skrzeszewski. Creative Memories: In Honour of the Polish Soldiers Who Died at the Battle of Fort Erie. London, Ont. : Stan Skrzeszewski, 2015

See other poems from Creative Memories

Stan Skrzeszewski is a writer of poetry, short stories, plays and even one libretto. He also serves as a curator at the Orlinski Museum and Archives of the Polish Armed Forces. In another life, Stan was a librarian, management consultant and a facilitator of philosopher’s cafes. The son of a Polish Veteran and Scottish War Bride, he feels a passionate need to record history.

The Battle of Queenston Heights by Lieut.-Col. J. R. Wilkinson

Fought October 13th, 1812

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Brock’s Monument on Queenston Heights and cenotaph erected on spot where he fell in battle, Canada. A Keystone View Stereotype, 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

They crossed in the gray of the morning,
‡‡Stole o’er from the other shore,
To invade the land of the Maple Leaf,
‡‡Two thousand proud foes, or more:
A detachment of the old Forty-Ninth,
‡‡And Dennis’s brave volunteers,
Opposed their landing determinedly,
‡‡Opening on them with cheers.

The roar of the guns from the battery
‡‡Rolled down Niagara’s gorge,
Awakening Brock and his fearless men
‡‡From their rest at old Fort George.
And in a hot haste Brock and his aides-de-camp
‡‡Rode fast through the pale, cold light,
Bidding Sheaffe and his men to follow on
‡‡To aid in the coming fight.

Meanwhile the Americans won the heights,
‡‡And the guns half way below;
Their loss was a serious menace, too,
‡‡In the hands of the haughty foe.
Swift as the fleet wind Brock gained the vale
‡‡And lifted his flashing eye,
Measuring the foe on the cold, gray steeps,
‡‡And the battery nearer by.

“The guns must be won!” Brock quickly cried,
‡‡And came an answering cheer
From the intrepid, ready Forty-Ninth —
‡‡Brave souls devoid of all fear!
“Forward! charge home to the battery’s side!”
‡‡And dauntless he led the way,
Driving the foe from the smoking guns
‡‡By the cold steel’s deadly play.

Heroically leading, he drew their fire,
‡‡And fearlessly fighting fell,
Pierced through the breast by a mortal shot,
‡‡The leader all loved so well.
“Don’t mind me,” he thoughtfully cried;
‡‡“Push on, brave York volunteers!”
Sent a message to his sister over the sea,
‡‡His eyes suffused with tears.

Thus perished war’s genius gloriously,
‡‡A great leader, young in years;
So loved and mourned for, brave, pure soul,
‡‡Thy name we bedew with tears.
Gallantly Sheaffe by St. David’s moves up,
‡‡Turning their flank by the way,
Gaining the heights by an impetuous rush,
‡‡Not a moment held at bay.

Consuming volleys they hurl on the foe,
‡‡Then charge with their deadly steel,
And hundreds are slain in the mad mêlée —
‡‡See, the foe in panic reel!
The British line sweeps resistlessly down;
‡‡The proud foe must surely yield.
Ha! they break — they break into headlong flight
‡‡In defeat from that blood-red field!

Over the heights in mad flight now leaping,
‡‡Some were impaled on the trees,
Where mockingly their garments fluttered
‡‡For years in the storm and breeze.
Some plunged in the cold, rushing river
‡‡To gain safely the other shore,
But were lost in the swirl of its waters,
‡‡And were heard of nevermore.

Nine hundred men surrendered to Sheaffe,
‡‡A force greater than his own.
Ah! ’twas a gallant day, and nobly won;
‡‡Signally the enemy were overthrown.
And standing there on the glorious Heights,
‡‡They cheered for country and King;
They unfurled the “flag of a thousand years”;
‡‡Their shouts o’er the scene did ring.

‘Twas a far-famed day for our lovèd land,
‡‡Ring it over the world so wide;
Like veterans Canadians fought that day,
‡‡With the regulars side by side.
Dearly the victory was won for us
‡‡In the death of beloved Brock.
Immortal hero! thy irreparable loss
‡‡Was to all a grievous shock.

They muffled their drums and reversed their arms,
‡‡And marshalled around his bier,
And solemnly bowed their war-worn heads,
‡‡And silently dropped a tear.
E’en the painted savages loved him well,
‡‡And o’er each stoical face
Stole a shadow of pain and tenderness,
‡‡Hallowing that sacred place.

A grateful country has planted there
‡‡A monument tow’ring high,
His memory e’er to perpetuate,
‡‡Pointing ever to the sky.
The hero and his aide, parted not by death,
‡‡Secure their relics rest there,
In the lovely land of the Maple Leaf
‡‡Ever so loyal and fair.

Aye, a grateful country placed it there —
‡‡On earth there’s no grander scene —
And we sing with a grateful, fervant heart
‡‡To our Country and our Queen.
Revere, then, the dead, and honor them still,
‡‡They died our freedom to save;
God bless the flag of a thousand years,
‡‡May it long o’er us proudly wave!

Source: Lieut.-Col. J. R. Wilkinson. Canadian Battlefields and Other Poems. 2nd ed. Toronto, William Briggs, 1901

Click here for more information on the Battle of Queenston Heights

The Battle of Lundy’s Lane by Myles O’Regan

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Monument to the Battle of Lundy’s Lane in Drummond Hill Cemetery, Niagara Falls

‘Tis a sweet September evening, and the sun is sinking low;
In a hundred gorgeous colors the Canadian forests show,
Streamlets murmur through the valley, song-birds warble in the trees,
There is glory in the sunset, and there’s perfume in the breeze.

∗          ∗            ∗          ∗          ∗            ∗          ∗            ∗          ∗          ∗

“Tell us, grandpa,” said young  Charley, as his wooden sword he swung,
“Tell us of the famous battle that you fought when you were young;
How that scar came on your forehead; how it is you were not slain;
For the folks say you did bravely at the battle of Lundy’s Lane.”

Gaily smiled the tall old farmer as he stroked the golden head
Of his fair and favored grandchild.  “You’re a tease, my boy,” he said
“But if Angus cease his drumming and if Will from noise refrain,
And if Alice sit beside me, I shall tell of Lundy’s Lane.”

Silent all, they crowded ’round him, when the veteran thus began: —
“I belonged to the ‘Glengarries,’ true and loyal every man:
At Niagara we joined Drummond, on the morning of the fight,
And with the Royal Scots were posted upon the British right.

“Ah! I never shall forget it, ’twas an evening in July,
Not a ripple stirred the river, not a cloud obscured the sky,
Swallows skimmed along the ridges, cattle browsed upon the plain,
Where, but thirty minutes after, lay the wounded and the slain.

“How the fight began I know not, but the sun had just gone down,
When the Yankees charged our centre, with their leaders Scott and Brown;
‘Steady boys,’ cried our Commander, ‘when you fire at all, aim low.’—

“We could see (so close they pressed us) their fierce eyes and faces pale;
We could hear their execrations when they found their efforts fail;
When they bay’netted our gunners, other gunners took their place;
Breast to breast we fought each other, though we were of kindred race.

Like the billows of the ocean they came on with mighty force;
As the rocks receive the billows, so we checked them in their course;
And our shot and shell ploughed through them, when defeated they fell back,
Making lanes in their battalions, leaving ruin in their track.

“Light departed, but the combat flashed and thundered all the same,
And the muskets sent forth volleys, and the cannon sheets of flame;
As the hour wore on the fighting grew more desperate than before,
And the terrors of the battle hushed loud Niagara’s roar.

On came Scott, who threw his columns ‘gainst our front and on our flanks,
But our Drummond, ever wary, met the shock with serried ranks;
On came Brown with levelled bay’net through the smoke and through the night.
We could see his steel line gleaming like a streak of morning light.

“Scott and Brown and the valiant Miller, they were baffled one by one,
And their bravest fell in hundreds, with the chiefs who led them on.
Still the odds were telling ‘gainst us (we were fighting one to three),
Till the cheers of fresh re’nforcements gave us hope of victory.

“Now a lull came in the battle, and the armies drew their breath,
And the moon from out the low’ring clouds shone on the fields of death.
Oh! my children! you could never, never wish for war again,
Had you seen that field of carnage—heard the groans of wounded men.

They were strewn along the valley, they were bleeding everywhere,
While the dying cried for water in the depths of their despair—
‘Here am I,’ mocked near Niagara, with its deep resounding roar;
‘Here am I, a mighty volume, falling water evermore!’

“Havoc paused but for a moment—soon the foe he charged again,
Making one last desperate effort, but in vain, ’twas all in vain;
For, though numbers sore oppressed us, still our hearts and steel were true,
And we kept our ground, as firmly rooted as the sturdy maple grew.

“Threw we then his shattered columns down the thrice ensanguined slope.
‘See the moon uprise,’ said Drummond, ‘now my boys no longer grope.
Charge!’ Oh how we cheered, and charged them till they broke and fled amain,
And they left us in possession of the field of Lundy’s Lane.”

“But the scar, Grandpa,” said Angus, “Tell us how you got the scar?”
“From a Yankee’s flashing sabre, ’twas an accident of war.”
“But they say, Grandpa, you killed him,” little Alice, breathless, cried:
“It is getting late, my children, let us home,” the veteran sighed.

Source: Morden, James C. Historical Monuments and Observatories of Lundy’s Lane and Queenston Heights. Niagara Falls: The Lundy’s Lane Historical Society, 1929.

At head of title: The following poem was lately discovered in an old scrapbook.

Read about the Battle of Lundy’s Lane in the Canadian Encyclopedia