In a few days time crowds of people will gather in cities, towns and villages up and down the country to conduct the least political celebration of the least politicised armed forces in the world. All the recent bluster about certain politicians, public figures and celebrities choosing to wear the white poppy of pacifism instead of the traditional red spectacularly misses the point of the entire event. The red poppy is a show of respect for the British soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who are sometimes asked to make great sacrifices for their country. Absent of politics and the justness of the wars they must fight the Sunday, and the poppy, are about remembering the dead and helping the wounded. There is no base militarism in that sentiment, no crass jingoism. The white poppy today is often a symbol of moral indulgence, worn by those who do not understand the words or are taken to believe the worst of their fellow man. This is because ultimately the poppy and the remembrance ceremony are not about us, our problems and debates on the morality of war. It is about them, those that we asked so much of, and those who we far too often forget.
I'll leave you, dear reader, with excerpts from a pair of poems I find especially poignant at this time of year; and the message that at the going down of the sun, and in the morning. We will remember them.
Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep,
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap.
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an` Tommy, 'ow's yer soul? "
But it's " Thin red line of 'eroes " when the drums begin to roll
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's " Thin red line of 'eroes, " when the drums begin to roll.
We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an` Tommy, fall be'ind,"
But it's " Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's " Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind.
-Tommy, Rudyard Kipling
How will you make a difference
the old man did implore.
Our people are forsaken,
Hearts immersed in darkness
as sunshine turns to shade,
how will you make a difference?
How will you make a change?
How do we make a difference
sighed the soldier wearily.
The battles, they continue –
Flags ‘mast in memory.
As time treks slowly onwards
like the shifting of the sand
how do we make a difference?
What is the greater plan?
How did you make a difference
said the wise man in reply.
What memory will grant to you
some future, tranquil joy?
When children’s smiles that shine for miles
light up your passing day,
you know you’ve made a difference
before you went away.
- A Difference, Robert Kiely