Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Magazine article for November 2017: Poppies

Dear Friends,

Over the years, I have been in on some interesting conversations about the whys and wherefores of wearing a poppy for the remembrance season. It’s clear that everyone on TV is now placed under huge pressure to wear a poppy. We see extra-large and sometimes bejewelled ones for X-factor judges and contestants, which has the effect of making them a fashion accessory. Poppies also seem to be appearing more and more in advance of the day itself, just like Easter eggs and Christmas decorations. I can't help thinking that this is a huge exercise in missing the point.

Please don't misunderstand me - I shall wear a (basic) poppy on Remembrance Sunday. I will do so, not because other people want me to, but because I will be remembering members of my family – one lost on the Somme in March 1918, also my grandfather who lived through nearly three years of horror in the trenches, and lived but rarely told the tale of the terrible things he witnessed.

I will remember the terrible cost of World War 2 – both military and civilian. I'll also be aware of all the casualties we have seen in recent wars, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Although much smaller in number than the “great” wars of the 20th century, we are made all the more aware by the intense media coverage of everyone whose life is lost.

On 14 Nov, I will also remember the anniversary of the bombing of Coventry in 1940. Having lived there, the experience still casts a shadow over the city, as it must in many other cities devastated by war. I still have a vivid memory of officiating at a burial in London Road cemetery, and was shocked when I saw there the memorial by the mass grave for the hundreds of casualties. The symbolism of the burned-out old cathedral next to the new one makes Coventry a very evocative place to visit. That experience has inspired people to reach out to other communities, and hence the city is twinned with Dresden in Germany.

Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day are there “lest we forget” - lest we forget the death, losses, destruction, pain and grief of war, and lest we forget the need to work for peace and reconciliation in the future to try and avoid such things ever happening again.

I believe that wearing a poppy is a matter of personal choice, and no-one should be abused for the choice they make. The important issue is what kind of a world are we working for. The external badges we wear are surely much less important than the principles we live out in our lives.

Mike Peatman

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