Monuments by Stan Skrzeszewski

monuments
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.

The Siege of Fort Erie by J.M. Harper

Sir Gordon holds the frontier line — all honour to his name —
Save only the stronghold to the south, near by Niagara’s stream —
Fort Erie of dismal remembrance, far up from the cataract,
Which the foe has strengthened all anew, since last it was attacked;
And as he thinks of the laurels won, on the field of Lundy’s Lane,
He fain would have the place re-ta’en, ere ends the year’s campaign.

That fort had fallen, the invader’s prize, a month or so before,
An easy prey to General Brown withstanding Britain’s power;
But amplified and girt around, as a citadel may be
A menace it stands to Drummond’s braves, who would the country free;
And its demilunes and bastioned wall, its batteries all in train,
Are his to seize in England’s name, her prowess to sustain.

And still, of a summer’s day, the book lies open to our hand,
As we linger amid the ruins, its tales to understand.
In the light and shade of the landscape, dotted o’er with homestead cheer,
We still may trace how the besiegers came to test the arts of war.
From the lintel-stone of some ruined keep, we may dream of the bloodstained din,
In the open field or round the walls, where mastery sought to win.

Who says the rival nations think to end their long-drawn feud?
Has any one heard in the ravelin such tiding there intrude?
Nay, rather, Sir Gordon is on his way, past the cataract’s echoing roar,
Awaking the hamlets, one by one, with nought but the tidings of war,
See, yonder, is where his army lay, beyond gun-range of the fort,
Prepared to dare every danger that lurked in its garrisoned court!

And the August sunsets come and go, like fringes of tragedy,
With bastion responding to battery, to the throbbing of woodland and lea;
While Sir Gordon is ever evolving his plans, to compass the place about,
In a nearer approach to its front and rear, from ravelin to redoubt;
And when he learns of Dobbs’ success, he decrees a night attack,
With three of his trusty colonels, the assault in line to make.

        ’Tis Fisher commands the wing to the right:
            ’Tis Towson’s he seeks to beset;
        And its twenty-four pounder greets his advance,
            From its ominous parapet.
        Will he dare these throbs of disaster?
            Will he reach the edge of the lake,
        Where under or over the palisades,
            An inner attack he may make?
        Yea, his courage will dare, whate’er the despair,
            All blasts from that cavern of wrath,
        As he keeps hovering near, his comrades to cheer,
            Amid the turmoil of death.
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