November 11th is a day for remembering, for wreaths and silence, for thoughts and prayers. One day when as a nation we acknowledge the downside to war. The day we pay lip service to the young lives that were taken away Men and boys killed fighting for freedom, for greed and for power, none of it their own.
A hundred years ago my Grandfather signed up to fight and left for the front the very same day, Nina did not see him again for 5 years, At least he did come back. Nina used to say that the First World War was meant to have been the war to end all wars. It was not so.
There has been much made of the Poppies at the Tower, many have visited and taken comfort from the sensational display A physical reminder of just how many people, fathers,lovers, brothers and sons did not come back. There has also been talk of this being a sanitised tribute, that it would have been better to have filled the moat with bones and broken ammunition and blood, for that is in truth what really happened. Bits of bodies blown to pieces, soldiers in damp dark trenches, waiting to go over the top and face the enemy. Combat fighting man on man, and disease and death all around. The Poppies came later.
I once watched a programme on the BBC, it was called the Second World War in Colour. They had taken actual newsreel footage from the war and added the colour. It was amazing what colour does for vintage footage,and for the emotions it evokes. The people become more real, the red hair, the black beards the uniforms and badges different shades. One scene will stay with me forever. It was of a party of soldiers in a landing craft heading for a shore. The familiar black and white newsreel, now in colour, showed men sitting in a small craft as the enemy fired upon them. At once the boat broke up and the men were in the water. The water turned pink and then red as the blood from severed limbs floated to the surface. One man was swimming through it all, swimming past the arms and legs of his fellow soldiers, swimming through their blood. It was horrific to watch, how much more horrific to have been there. I wondered often what happened to that man and how he went on to live a life with a memory of such an experience.
From watching that footage I was able to consider some of the older men in my family and in my community I would wonder how many of them had such memories, hidden away while they got on with the job of living. It doesn’t end there. Every day from the end or the war to end all wars somewhere someone is fighting. From the Falklands to Northern Ireland, from Iraq to Afghanistan, many young men and women have daily placed themselves in situations where they to could kill or be killed, and no doubt come home with memories that haunt them.
I have no idea if the Poppies at the Tower are a good thing or a bad thing for the commemoration of war. I think they are an effective tool for getting us to talk about things and to raise money for the British Legion, but I doubt they have any use beyond that. The daily reading of names of those lost added a personal touch to the installation especially for family members, it was a nice thing to do. However, I cannot help but feel that amid all the hype about the Poppies we have somehow missed the point. Maybe blood and bones might have been better, shocking, but better, for war is not bright flowers in the nations capital city, it is death and destruction and dirty and dire.
They gave their tomorrows for our today, lets make sure we remember and work hard to make sure we talk and work towards peace. Then they will not have died in vain.