Lincoln Book Festival

Lincoln Book Festival
2017 Festival Programme

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Wearing our Poppies not only with pride

Just one week after Remembrance Day we commemorate the final day of the Battle of the Somme and I find myself pondering that word, pride.

I am immensely proud of our service men and women, but ask whether it was it pride that compelled those politicians and generals to send thousands of boys, defenceless against streams of machine gun bullets? Perhaps some thought that the enemy could be overrun if enough were sent.

I have been researching accounts of the Great War with a view possibly to writing a ‘Prequel’ to my book, War on Wheels. I thought I already knew much of what happened in those years 1914 to 1918. I didn’t know the half; indeed I still don’t. Yet what I have unearthed sheds a very a different light on Remembrance, on the idea of wearing my poppy with pride.

So, I search for other words. Do I wear my poppy with thanks. The answer is ‘yes’, I do thank each and every one of those boys who gave their lives. But what of those who had their lives snatched from them, cruelly dragged from them?

There are stories of young men in 1914 desperate for adventure, desperate for the chance of standing up for King and Country. Pumped up with adrenaline, or do I mean testosterone, ready to give the enemy the hiding they deserved. I am sure there were some; but just how many met a quite different reality? Trench warfare was obscene beyond anything we can comprehend.

Following on from those seeking adventure were the pals, the battalions made up of men from the same village or workplace. Who wouldn’t step up to support a pal? There were those stepping forward out of a sense of duty or patriotism. There were those shamed by a white feather into volunteering. The fate though was the same. I try to imagine, but fail. Arriving in the trenches surrounded by mud and death must have shocked to the core even the strongest man. On the command to go forward, was it possible to think at all, staggering into the hail of bullets?

So, do I wear my poppy with sympathy? The word surely is too weak for the feelings of those who received the dreaded telegram telling them that their husband, son or brother was dead, or possibly worse, missing. Grossly inadequate for those enduring an unimaginably hideous death from gas or gangrene. Insufficiently enduring for those thousands who would carry a wound for the rest of their lives.

If not sympathy or thanks, then what? Shame?

Governments sending young men to war are doing so on behalf of the electorate, at least in theory. So is the poppy a mark of shame that so many were needlessly slaughtered? This is not the same as saying that the war should never have been fought, it is much more about ensuring that those who offer their bodies in the service of their country are protected to the best extent possible. Winston Churchill’s campaign for the tank was just this, to offer a means of protection against machine gun bullets.

Shame though devalues the sacrifice made by so many. Heartbreak then, that the land of Europe endured such suffering. Heartbreak for those who suffered agony and those who suffered loss.

More so though, to wear a poppy to make sure that we never forget. What happened in those years 1914-1918 was meant to end all wars. It didn’t, but it still could if those in power took seriously the lessons of history.

This piece was published in the Lincolnshire Echo on 3 November 2016

2 comments:

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