Autumnal day in the Loxley Valley – I walk in my new (Chinese) boots over damp leaves down a damp valley, caught in outbursts of sunlight between lengthening shadows – bonfire smoke and gleaming vapour trails in a blue sky and I reflect.
This particular reflection is about Remembrance.
Menin Gate at Ypres, Stannington War Memorial, Barkers Pool, Weston Park, the lovely little manicured plot in Burngreave Cemetery, Wadsley Bridge, the grounds of Wadsley Church, the Royal Vic Hotel, Steel Works entrance in the East End, Kelham Island Museum, Irish lads in St Michaels, a former churchyard in Darnall.
Our old feller would never wear a poppy – in those days they had Haig Fund on them – “he killed them all,”he said.
I remember his bemusement when I got him his 1939-45 medal – he went into the gents at the Shoulder to wipe his eyes. He’d had a ‘quiet war’. I got bemused when I come across someone described as having ‘a good war’ because there’s no such thing is there?
When they talk about fascism, I remember my Uncle George, who went into Bergen-Belsen and I think about the White Poppy I once wore out of respect for the people who wore them and their ideals – sadly those ideals wouldn’t have stopped Hitler.
Meeting Ben Parkinson, speaking to the officers laying Liam Riley to rest in Sheffield Cathedral, listening to the heartbroken but proud eloquence of the father of a Muslim flight lieutenant killed in Afghanistan, its about individuals-who you never knew, some known only unto God.
Maybe in some respects they have been betrayed, many of them never the same even if they avoid physical scars. There is pride but that comes at a price – a price I never had to pay for a freedom – to acknowledge by wearing a poppy – or not .
That’s why the Tower of London poppy display of ceramic poppies flowing out of an arrow slit and representing each of the WW1 British and Commonwealth dead – is beautiful and eloquent and proves that the British can still do these things like no one else.
The old feller would have echoed that sentiment.
But its ‘a terrible beauty’ all the same.