With all three sons now in the Army cadets, my husband & brother former military and my brother in law and many friends still in the military, remembrance Sunday has always had a special significance. Although my father wasn’t in the forces,as a young man he had been in the Merchant Navy. As we grew up he was a member of the Royal Observer Corp. Many Novembers we would have a weekend in London watching The Lord Mayors show on the Saturday and on the Sunday Dad would get us to a good viewing spot for the Remembrance parade at the Senotaph. Being at the centre of such an annual ceremony makes a big impression and being only a few feet away from politicians & world leaders makes them seem more real. The real impact on me was always the music, and then the silence. When a large band marches past your heart joins in with the beating drums and I’d always feel quite emotional.
As a teenager I worked in two residential homes. In one of them was a particularly grumpy old man called Mr Ballard. He’d bark at you if you did anything wrong and he was never very grateful if you did anything right. One year I happened to be working on remembrance Sunday. The corridors were filled with the BBC service. That all too familiar Vaugn Williams piece interspersed with classic band music. As I knocked before entering Mr Ballards room there was no familiar, ‘go away’ , so I entered quietly expecting him to be asleep. I’ll never forget the vision of the fiercesome man sat up in bed sobbing. I went over to him put my arm around him and asked what was wrong. It was heartbreaking. ‘Why do they dig it all up every year? Why can’t we just forget it all?’ I innocently asked what was he talking about. ‘That bloody War!!!’
He’d lost his father, brother and numerous friends during the two World Wars. He let me stay sat on the edge of his bed and I listened while he said how desperately sad the whole poppy thing made him. How he couldn’t bear to see people wearing poppies, especially when they had no idea what memories it returned to those who’d served. I tried to suggest that it was important to remember what had happened so that it wouldn’t happen again. ( as I spoke I knew what a pathetic argument that was with only recently the Falklands war ending and with the very scary ‘Cold War’ going on as we spoke.)
I sat with him for a good twenty minutes, missing the two minute silence which was a first for me. I suddenly saw it all from a different perspective.
He never mentioned our chat after that and soon returned to his grumpy old self, but I couldn’t forget.
For many years after that I would refuse to wear a poppy out of respect for him and the many others for whom the Poppy represented great loss. To me the Poppy was just a symbol of that day.
In my late teens they built a bypass around Blandford. For some reason I would drive around that area quite regularly and we could see this massive channel cut into the hill as the new road was built. One summer the banks on either side of the road were covered in blood red poppies and I suddenly saw the connection of the poppies and Remembrance Sunday.
When my sons were born I remember driving them on this road and telling them about how the banks on either side of the road were, for one year, covered in poppies. They’d asked why and with tears in my eyes I told them how when the ground is churned up the poppy seeds awaken and burst into flower. I then told them of the First World War and how all the fields of mud that the battles had been fought over turned red with poppies after the war had finished and that’s why we wear Poppies to remember the dead.
From then on I wore a Poppy. Mr Ballard had long passed away and I felt, with sons, that we do need to remember. My eldest is eager to join the military and I try not to dwell on all the dangers he would put himself in. I hope that I’ve brought him up not to join to kill people but to help those more disadvantaged than ourselves. We’ve been lucky enough to take all three of our sons to Normandy to see the graves & the museums. Nothing prepares anyone for the shock of row upon row of headstones, each with a different name on and so many with an age of 17 on them. War is a terrible terrible thing and as we all know all to well now that even a War on the other side of the world has a ripple effect on us here.
So this year I’m wearing a poppy, and I remember Mr Ballard, his father, his brother, my grandfather who also survived the war but not without its scars and those miles and miles of muddy fields across France & Germany that Mother Nature covered in poppies, lest we forget.