I’ve written on here before about Remembrance. Earlier this year in ‘The Great Silence’ I wrote about how the ideas for the grave of the Unknown Warrior and and the Great Silence were had, not by Generals or Prime Ministers, let alone Royalty, but by ordinary people. In so far as you can ever call any one of us ordinary.
Well today, almost accidentally, I wrote about Remembrance again. Not on here in a thought about and considered way. But on Twitter, with but a few moments of thought.
This morning I was walking about, buying bread and essentials and soaking up some daylight while I could. When I came across this.
My hand went instinctively into my bag for my camera and I took this photograph. Impressed, simply, that the Royal British Legion or whoever, had gone to the trouble of making and displaying this in the only place on the whole of the Earth where it could be displayed. In front of the former bus shelter where John, Paul and George would meet up in the late 1950s mornings to get the bus together into school and college. Dreaming of Elvis, talking about Little Richard, making up the Beatles.
Back home, just round the corner, I took the picture off the camera and uploaded it to Twitter. Thinking that, given where it’s a picture of, people might be mildly interested, saying:
“Only place on Earth this could be displayed. Today in Penny Lane @“
Not imagining I was making any kind of comment about Poppies, I then got the bus into town myself, for a peaceful afternoon rooting round in a couple of record shops.
Three hours later I get home, check the football score – lost again – and glance idly at Twitter. To find that Twitter’s not being idle at all. That hundreds of people are ‘Favouriting’ and ‘Retweeting’ my Poppies in Penny Lane picture. They still are. Even as I write my Twitter feed’s going round faster than the electricity meter. Thousands of retweets probably now.
So obviously I’ve sent a powerful message out there, without particularly meaning to. Which has got me thinking. If a Tweet were more than 140 characters long what might I have said?
Well first of all that I’m grateful and I do remember. Every November I Remember with a capital letter. Whatever the rights and wrongs of wars I honour every soul of all sides who ever responded to their Country’s call to go and defend it in its hour of need. On this blog I’ve written frequently and even tearfully about the bravery and sacrifices that were made, particularly in the two great and appalling conflicts of the 20th Century.
I am even selfishly grateful. I read a great deal of history and know how close I came, born in 1954, to living in a very different world to the free one, for all its faults, that I have in fact enjoyed for these 60 years. I’ve just finished a horrifyingly informative book called ‘The End’ about life inside Germany in 1944-45. When the fanatical fascists turned the full terror they were always capable of onto their own German people, so they would literally ‘fight to the death’ rather than sue for peace. ( I recommend this book unreservedly. It very much widened my understanding of World War Two and what the peoples of all of our lands went through.)
So I know I came terribly close to growing up under totalitarian slavery and am very grateful to everyone who fought, and all of those who died, to stop that.
But I don’t wear the poppy and I never have. So why, given I am deeply grateful and I do always remember?
In my younger days it was simply because you were sort of expected to. Like now if you’re a newsreader or a football player. And ‘being expected to’ was always reason enough not to do it.
Now in my maturity I still won’t wear the poppy. And now I know that this has everything to do with peace.
The poppy you see, the blood red poppy, reminds us and is supposed to remind us of war. Of what was sacrificed and those who did the sacrificing certainly. But also of war itself. And it’s war itself I object to.
Increasingly, it seems, war is the first option in any international disagreement. Someone is always at war with someone. Whole industries are founded and dependent upon selling the weapons of war to both sides. Even though they don’t much make the news anymore there are continuous wars being fought. For oil, for water, for revenge, for beliefs, for politics, or just because.
And all over the Earth our children and our soldiers are still lost to war. And tomorrow, on Remembrance Sunday, I will remember and regret every one of those losses.
Then I will think of peace.
Because we don’t do enough thinking first of peace, it seems to me. We don’t do enough talking before working out whether we really need to fight, it seems to me. Talking to the ordinary people. In so far as you can ever call any one of us ordinary.
This year my thinking about peace has been particularly encouraged by listening to my new friends in the Liverpool Quakers. The other week I listened to them talk about the heroism of the conscientious objectors during World War One, and all they were forced to go through for their beliefs, including being sent to the Front. And what particularly impresses me about the Quakers is that they will not do war, simply will not do it.
I don’t know if I have it in me to be so brave. I kind of think:
“I’d have refused to fight in the First, but that bastard Hitler needed sorting out and stopping in the Second”
But much of this is based on hindsight and in no way lessens my admiration for everyone about to spend their first winter in the trenches a hundred years ago now.
So tomorrow morning I will walk along Penny Lane and into Sefton Park – my sacred place, my cathedral – and I will stand in silence and I will remember. Like I always do. But this post, and these thoughts must be my poppy.
And after the Remembrance I pray only that all of our first thoughts will be of peace. Peace and an end to all war. We owe it to all of those we have lost. That they didn’t die in vain. That they didn’t die just so wars could go on forever.