On Remembrance Day, I returned home from work (where we'd observed a two minutes silence) to find the neighbour's house decorated with a large digital display of a Poppy. The red bathed the street and really stood out, and made me pause.
The Poppy has been adopted by the Royal British Legion (the main veteran's support group in the UK) as the symbol of Remembrance for many years, and each year the Poppy Campaign uses it as a fundraiser. It draws its roots from a poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, written at the battlefront on 3rd May 1915 during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
If you're British, the Poppy Campaign and the solemness of service at the Cenotaph (repeated across the country) will be part of your upbringing. As a Cub, and later a Scout, we always participated in the service when I was growing up. The observation of the silence has slowly returned to be a norm.
In one of my favourite tracks from Pink Floyd, 'The Gunner's Dream', Roger Waters references the service, and it's one of the most poignant verses in the song.
Floating down, through the clouds
Memories come rushing up to meet me now
But in the space between the heavens
And the corner of some foreign field
I had a dream
I had a dream
Goodbye Max, goodbye Ma
After the service, when you're walking slowly to the car
And the silver in her hair shines in the cold November air
You hear the tolling bell and touch the silk in your lapel
And as the teardrops rise to meet the comfort of the band
You take her frail hand
And hold on to the dream
A place to stay, enough to eat
Somewhere, old heroes shuffle safely down the street
Where you can speak out loud about your doubts and fears
And what's more, no one ever disappears
You never hear their standard issue kicking in your door
You can relax on both sides of the tracks
And maniacs don't blow holes in bandsmen by remote control
And everyone has recourse to the law
And no one kills the children anymore
No one kills the children anymore
Night after night, going 'round and 'round my brain
His dream is driving me insane
In the corner of some foreign field
The gunner sleeps tonight
What's done is done
We cannot just write off his final scene
Take heed of the dream
I was really surprised to see the Poppy display next door; it felt very garish and unsettled me. I think that the reaction came because I've always felt that the act of remembrance is a shared, solemn, quiet and respectful thing. The neighbour's youngest lad has created increasingly impressive displays for Christmas, New Year and Halloween; they've all been fun celebrations and, in my head, I was linking the Poppy display to them. It seemed disrespectful as a result.
I fear that the Act of Remembrance is starting to become a Festival of Remembrance when people compete to have the best display. You see it with the ways and types of Poppies sold now, the striving in the media to be seen to be the most supportive. It's a small step from remembering the sacrifices and consequences of our veterans to glorifying the wars themselves. I hope we aren't taking it.
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.
Laurence Binyon, 1914