There is a gentleman I know, a man of the sea, whose name is Mick. Not a young man, not any more. Today his boots will be polished, his medals will gleam on his chest, and his beloved dog will walk, unseen now, by his side, shepherding the memories of so many of Mick’s comrades as the few who remain pay their respects.
He will stand straight, in pride, in remembrance and there will be tears in his eyes.
There has been much debate about the value of Remembrance Day in recent years… it is a century after all since the Great War, a lifetime since World War II… isn’t it time, they ask, to let it rest?
Yet, since those wars, how many people have been slaughtered in violent conflict? Civilian and military alike. How many will lose their lives, their homes, their loved ones today?
How can we forget?
When the lives of so many, like Mick, have been shaped and coloured by war, how can we dismiss the sacrifice demanded of a generation?
As paper poppies bloom in every town and village for Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day I do not see them as a glorification of war but as a call for peace, an end to the atrocities we perpetrate against our fellow man. A reminder of the human cost in blood.
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate
I come from a military family. My father, grandfather and great-grandfather served with the Royal Engineers, my uncles the RAF and Navy.Great granddad on the other side was with the Life Guards, and granny was with the WRAF. My first husband was with the then 4th/7thRoyal Dragoon Guards. My father-in-law served with the Free French, my mother in law, a girl, helped the Resistance. Much of my early childhood was spent in married quarters while my father served overseas.
I learned early on that they don’t really speak of war.
If pressed they tell of friendships made and cherished, of leeches and the hilarious lengths they went to avoiding them in the jungles of Burma. They speak of India and Aden and the beauties of the landscape and warmth of the people they met. Or the Greek Islands. Or France. Or Poland.
They speak with laughter and fond memories of the camaraderie. Of concert parties and strange and exotic foods. They do not speak of war.
Occasionally, a shadow of grief would cross their faces and the retelling became funnier still, or the subject was changed, or the medals came out…anything, it seemed, to avoid the other reality.
My sons trained with ATC and St John’s as youngsters and every year I would watch them on parade on Remembrance Sunday. I can never watch without tears the ever dwindling bands of smartly turned out men and women, veterans marching together once more. Or the younger lives, those who joined up for a career and were caught in the reality, those who joined with a glorious dream of gallantry and found the gore and horror. They are strangers,but I know something of their history, and they are part of mine.
They have seen much of the worst of human behaviour, and also the best. Theirs was, during their time of service, often a journey of extremes. They have been part of the destructiveness of war, but have also known the courage and chivalry. Many will have taken life, and they do not forget. In one unique moment of openness my grandfather spoke of bayonets and blood and decades of nightmare. It was the only time I ever saw him weep except for beauty.
It is often forgotten that in the two World Wars service was not a career move or training opportunity. It was required. Many volunteered…and did so to serve their country. Others were called up regardless. Some had joined up already, often in memory of their own fathers lost in earlier conflicts and were caught in war.
I will wear my poppy in their memory and with pride will keep the silence.
I care not for the political and ethical debates that surround the remembering. I speak for no-one but myself and will weep when the Last Post sounds for the memory of those who were lost and for the gentle,loving folk who served their God and country all their lives through, raising their children in kindness and tolerance, teaching their children’s children the ways of beauty and gentleness and love. For these were my family.
I will weep too for those who served and who yet remain, young and old alike, for the children and grandchildren whose lives have been touched, For the victims of war and violence in any nation and through all the ages. For the unspoken horrors and the hidden hurts that the human ego can inflict upon its fellow man.
I will see in the red of the poppy the blood spilled by madness, in the delicacy of its petals the fragility of human life, and in its ability to survive against the odds in the most unlikely places I will see the tenacity and strength of the human spirit. At its heart the poppy holds a thousand tiny seeds that will be flung into the world in the hope of sustaining its beauty. And some will survive.
I will remember.
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.