Friday, November 10, 2006

Pine needles and poppies

xmas treeHeard in the lift this morning:

Brunette: I was looking at the xmas decorations in the loft yesterday and wondering if we need to get any new ones.

Blonde: Yes, that time of the year is almost upon us again.

Brunette: And I was thinking that we may get a real tree for a change this year.

Blonde: How nice. I was talking to Becky in HR (*) today, she’s thinking of getting one too.

Brunette: They’re a bit messy, but they smell so nice, don’t you think?

(*) It may have been 'Tracey from Accounts' or 'Sandra from Collections'

I got out at that point. It surprises me that people get artificial Christmas trees. If you’re going to have a tree, have a real one, I say. So what if it sheds needles within days of putting the thing up? And, a few weeks later, when you pack the decorations away, make sure you put a few needles away with the decorations. Along with ancient, favourite decorations, they create a sense of continuity that I like.

Despite being a cynical old bastard, I have a sentimental streak that surprises even me.

While on the topic of celebratory plants, I’ll digress to another, one that is much more topical at this time of the year, than a Christmas tree. Yes, it’s almost poppy day again.

I got rather verbose about it last year, even slightly sentimental, so I won’t go over old ground. What follows is 'new ground', to me that is.

white peace poppyUntil a few days ago, I was completely unaware of the ‘clash of the poppies’ as, to me, only the red poppy had any symbolic significance. I now know that the white poppy is similarly symbolic yet has a whiff of controversy about it:

It was first introduced by the Women's Co-operative Guild in 1933 and was intended as a lasting symbol for peace and an end to all wars.

Worn on Armistice Day, now Remembrance Sunday, the white poppy was produced by the Co-operative Wholesale Society because the Royal British Legion had refused to be associated with its manufacture.

While the white poppy was never intended to offend the memory of those who died in the Great War, many veterans felt that its significance undermined their contribution and the lasting meaning of the red poppy. Such was the seriousness of this issue that some women lost their jobs in the 1930s for wearing white poppies.


The battle of the poppies continues to this day with clashes being reported in Canada.

Although I admitted to sentimentality above, I’ve never been one to get too worked up by wars of the past, no matter how tragic, how much I owe them the freedoms I take for granted and even though they may have killed some of my ancestors. However, I do think that Rebecca Sullivan’s (*) poem, ‘There Lie Forgotten Men’, chosen to lead tomorrow’s Armistice Day celebrations is very good:

From 'There Lie Forgotten Men'

She stands there alone

At the edge of the silent place

And she is shocked

New wars brew and these forgotten men

Will play no part in them

The dead silence warn no ears but hers

In great halls, in moments of great decision

What they fought for is forsaken

And by day's end new gravestones

Appear on the blood red ground

She finds what she seeks

'Sgt John Malley Age 27'

His life brutally ended

And she stands by his grave

But he can give no answers

And she weeps for him

For the empty hole he left behind

And for the new emptiness

Soon to join the black chasm.

And her tears join the flood.

(*) Rebecca Sullivan is a 13-year-old schoolgirl who has never written poetry before.

9 Comments:

Blogger andrea said...

I've been following this white poppy thing here and can't understand the us-or-them/either-or mentality. There's room for all in my opinion.

3:13 pm  
Anonymous patita said...

I just read up on white poppies yesterday and was a bit baffled myself. I didn't see a contradiction of wearing the red poppy and supporting peace, and I certainly didn't mind that the funds were going to help veterans readjust to civilian life.

4:23 pm  
Blogger Caroline said...

What is it with red and white? We had the war of the roses here in the not very united kingdom and now there is this over peace and war... Maybe I'll make myself a pink one...

That poem is brilliant.

4:51 pm  
Anonymous xmichra said...

first - i hate real trees. i am far to allergic to them to deal with that "christmas feeling". to me, that feeling is itchy. Don't like it. lol...

Second - the poppy war is silly. I mean, it is not silly in what they both stand for.. but the fact that you have to wear one or the other is silly. I would love to remember the people who paved my country into what i can live in comfortably.. and to wish for no more wars.. so that i can live without free in this great land.

Even in peace, seperatists find the way to get you.

1:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is interesting, especially the fact that some were fired for wearing it. History is my major, just love it and it's oddities, in all it's splendor, pain and ugly furrows.
The poem was quite nice, especially for a young woman of 13. Mwah!!

1:57 pm  
Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

My sentamentality waxes and wanes but this is something that always touches a nerve for me. Always.

12:38 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

andrea: I couldn’t agree with you more!

patita: Exactly! Red to support the veterans, white to promote peace. Nothing could be simpler in my eyes.

Caroline: Wear a pink one and they’ll stone you! That girl seems destined for great things if she can always write like that.

xmichra: I know ALL about itching and hating it but I don’t my itches from trees. :-)

Babsbitchin: Mwah back at you!

LiVEwiRe: Seeing the old war veterans, especially the very old ones, being honoured is this way is a poignant reminder of how much we owe them.

In the Western world, where the older generation is increasingly undervalued, it’s probably one of the few times where there is public acknowledgement of our debt to them.

12:50 pm  
Anonymous Leonora said...

My partner and I always wear red AND white poppies - though the white ones are sometimes difficult to get hold of. We wear red poppies to commemmorate the dead, and white to indicate a committment to campaign for peace.

4:35 pm  
Blogger Sean Carter said...

Quite interesting post!!Liked the poem a lot!!

7:07 am  

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