I don’t want to get too technical about the relationship between WW1 armistice and what happens now, but it is worth being reminded. According to Wikipedia: “Armistice Day is commemorated every year on November 11 to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. The date was declared a national holiday in many allied nations, and coincides with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, public holidays”. Armistice Day was instituted by King George V in 1919, to mark the first anniversary of the end of WW1. The association between commemorating war dead and poppies arises from the famous opening lines of Canadian army officer John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Field, which begins: ” In Flanders fields the poppies blow; Between the crosses, row on row“.
What sparked off this particular offering was an article titled: “Why I Choose Not To Wear a Poppy”, which then gave rise to discussion among the friends of my Facebook friend who posted it. The arguments given in the article appear plausible. Some I agree with, some I don’t subscribe to, but I respect the author’s decision to opt out of wearing a poppy, even if that might not be a sentiment I share. One thing that many of the allied soldiers who fell in the two World Wars shared was their desire to free future generations from tyranny. One tyranny as my last year offering tried to address was forcing people to wear poppies, and still I feel some discomfort when long before Poppy day, almost every person being paraded before the public have poppies prominently displayed on their outer garment, which causes me to ask why they do so?
It seems to me, everyone has a view and everyone is entitled to a view, especially on this matter. Many do so based on personal experience and for those who have lost loved ones in past conflicts this is especially pertinent. While I know many who have lost loved ones in such circumstances, the nearest I can lay claim to is a great uncle who died in World War 1, 45 years before I was born. I can still recall his sister (my maternal grandmother) crying on Poppy day because of what happened. My early poppy day remembrances was as a school boy putting a penny in the tin in exchange for a poppy when the poppy tray came round to my class and at 11am precisely on November 11th observing a two minute silence, sometimes in context of a religious service focusing on honouring those who fell in the wars. It also occurs that around the country, in churches and secular places, there are boards that give the names of the dead from that area, and sometimes their names are read.
I might be wrong but I get the impression that as I grew older remembering in this way, and any way in fact, began to go out of fashion, although in more recent years it has come back into fashion, possibly because of the number of armed conflicts around the world that have involved British servicemen. Regarding wearing poppies before the day, I may or may not. I can think of two reasons for may not: firstly I have yet to find a way to ensure my poppy remains affixed to my outer garment and secondly I come from a Non Conformist tradition that is not that into special days and yet will often think about the things that these special days are meant to commemorate throughout the whole year. If I were to make a suggestion: it would be that we nationally, starting in public / civic settings, stopped everything by 10:55am on every November 11th, with poppy wearing encouraged, and observe a two minute silence, before getting back to what we were doing. It would be a great opportunity for national solidarity and for private remembering. And if people wanted to opt out of any of the remembrance activities, providing they respect those who want to remember in silence, they should do so without being pressurized or shamed.
As for what we remember, it is a personal thing. I have no doubt when King George V began the whole fixed day remembering idea the focus was on the Allied soldiers who died in World War 1. There has been many wars since where members of the armed services died, and what about the civilians that also have taken part or merely been innocent victims of what happened or like the six million Nazi holocaust victims in World War 2 were victims of tyranny? Without in any way condoning “the enemy”, I think of them too, for they were someone’s son, husband or father and in a sense victims of misplaced ideology or merely having to fight because of their citizenship. Then I think of those who died as a result of “collateral damage”, for always the innocent suffer most.
Yesterday, I read on my newsfeed of more deaths at sea by those fleeing from Africa to Europe for a better life. That has gone, for today those who control the media have already forgotten. But a simple Internet search confirms something I already knew – in the past couple of years there have been many separate such incidents. As for what to remember, there is so much – bravery, futility, innocence lost, evil unleashed, lost opportunity, great void, fond thoughts of loved ones who were rudely taken from us before their time, my part in making the world a place for this NOT to happen …
The following words are familiar since, along with the playing on the bugle of “The Last Post” and certain Bible texts, these words frequently crop up at in acts of remembrance around this time:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
And just maybe, there can be something for the dead boat people too! As for what we remember, I have said what sort of things go through my mind, but for each individual it is a personal thing, and rightly so. The above words are part of a poem, “For the Fallen” by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) and could serve as starter. For it is right and proper we do remember, and do so in perpetuity.