Poppy Field

Why I wear a poppy today

(And why you should wear a poppy too.)

I am something of a “black sheep” in my family. The first in several generations who has never joined one of the military services. First I’m going to explain what the poppy means to me in terms of my family history, then why it still has meaning to me as a “pacifist”.

My grandfather was a boy of 15 when the Great War broke out in 1914. He lied about his age in order to join an infantry regiment. When his secret was discovered he was immediately sent home of course, but , as soon as he was 16, he was back at the recruiting office. He fought in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme, from which so many men and boys never returned. He gave four years of his youth, whilst many of his friends and comrades gave their lives. The poppy we wear reminds us of their sacrifices.

My father was 21 when war again broke out. He spent the majority of his twenties in the midst of some of the worst fighting of World War II, including in the desert alongside the 8th Army, in the jungles of Asia alongside the Gurkha  regiments, and stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. He never liked to speak of it. Few that saw the true horrors of that war did. The poppy reminds us of those who gave up their youths and their lives in that most horrific of conflicts.

My mother never saw the fighting first hand, but, as a mere teenager, she was in the WAAF stationed at RAF Binbrook, an active Bomber Command, eventually rising to Sergeant. She, and many other WAAF and RAF ground crew would work sometimes round the clock, especially in bad weather, keeping the runways clear for the Lancaster bombers. In all that time, hardly a moment went by when they were not under the stress of a possible air attack. Possibly worst of all, my mother and her comrades would watch as sometimes less than half of the planes which went out carrying their friends, boyfriends and husbands would later return, and on board those that did, so many airmen horribly disfigured and mutilated by everything from stray bullets to cabin fires. She had nightmares for years afterwards about the young airmen who were carried from those planes barely recognisable as human. The poppy reminds us also of them, many of whom walked away with mental scars as bad as any of the visible scars of the frontline infantry.

For all of those reasons I wear, respect and honour the poppy of remembrance day, but also for one other reason too.

Wars are a mark of failure. Not, I hasten to add, the failure of any of those brave men and women of my previous paragraphs. War is the result of the failure of our leaders. A failure of government. A failure of communication at the highest level. It is for that reason we should all wear the poppy, no matter what our personal view of the military. We should wear it with a mixture of pride for our heroes and shame for the leaders who led them down that path, taking time on this Remembrance Day to reflect on those past failures that they should never be allowed to be repeated.

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3 Comments

  1. Beautiful sentiments cuz. I also think about our great great Uncle, Walter Foster Simpson who lost his life at the Somme, and is commemorated on the memorial hall at Wymeswold. We have a cross placed in London every year for him. very proud of all of them. Totally agree with you about war being a failure of governments. A great pity that they dont value peace and humanity. Love you cuz xxx

    • I’d not heard about Walter before. I’d love to learn more about him. Another I didn’t mention was dad’s brother who was Pipe Major of the Black Watch.

  2. I would just like to add this. You speak of being the black sheep in the family, but I actually believe that you are one of the braviest. You stood up and stayed true to yourself, which I believe is more than many in the family would do for fear of consequence. luv you and proud of you cuz xxxxxalways

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