On Penny Lane: In Remembrance

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.

The Great Silence of 1920. first at the now permanent Cenotaph.

The Great Silence of 1920. The first at the now permanent Cenotaph.

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.

On the corner of Penny Lane.

On the corner of Penny Lane.

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 @PoppyLegion

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.

00252966_mediumI 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.

Remembrance Sunday, in Sefton Park.

Remembrance Sunday, in Sefton Park.

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.

My poppy from Penny Lane.

My poppy from Penny Lane.

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.

 

 

13 thoughts on “On Penny Lane: In Remembrance

  1. studiotower

    Mitch from Indiana here. That’s one of the most powerful words I’ve ever come across concerning the plight of war. My father just passed away at age 95, a veteran of WWII fighting in the Alsace region of France. Combined with both my long-time mental image of Penny Lane with the real images of today this was a most refreshing post, Ronnie. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Mitch and very sorry to hear your Dad has just died. Very grateful to him too for what he did for us all in Alsace. Tomorrow I’ll take his memory for a walk along Penny Lane.

      Reply
  2. stan cotter

    Hi Ron that young pretty nurse is the daughter of a friend of mine from my ambulance days. He is also in the royal british legion st johns ambulance brigade and lor knows what else. Each year he is off to the beaches where it all happened, in his own time and at his own expense to be an available ambulance if needed. His name is Cliff Ennis and recently while selling poppies some kind soul stole his push bike, you may have seen this in the Liverpool echo. A shop called evans a cycle dealer has given Cliff a brand new bike. So faith in humanity has been restored.
    Regards Stan

    Reply
  3. Cathy Alderson

    Your words make so much sense, I endorse all of your sentiment there.

    I also have my own Remembrance in my head, but particularly at this time of year.

    I remember my maternal grandad who’s WW1 story, (well, his whole life really) is astonishing. He and the other horribly injured men had to come back and cobble together some sort of life, with pitifully little State help, after they had almost given their lives in that war.

    So tomorrow, I’ll be thinking about William Davies, who with only one arm and one leg, brought up and supported his eleven children, including my Mum and remember him for his courage and tenacity.
    God bless grandad.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Well said Cathy. My Grandad too. Thomas Joseph Hughes.

      After reappearing after the final push in the Coldstream Guards and being taken prisoner, he was greeted with “It says here you’re dead Hughes! Are you all right?’

      His affirmative answer, gas poisoned as he was, disbarred him from any further help or assistance, through years of struggle, poverty and unemployment.

      And I think of your Grandad often when I pass the Adelphi. What you told me about him sitting in his little tin hut outside there for years. Selling The Echo.

      At the going down of the sun we will remember them.

      Reply
  4. robertday154

    We all choose our own way to commemorate those who took part.

    My father saw active service in WW2 in North Africa and Italy. He came back; plenty of others didn’t. He was also down to go with Tiger Force, the expeditionary force to seize the Japanese Home Islands, in late 1945-46, but that never happened. I wasn’t born until 1957. This all colours my view, somewhat.

    More recently, I’ve found that I lost a great-uncle on the Somme in 1916. His name is on the monument at Thiépval; he has no other known grave. I’m very conscious that there was a whole branch of my mother’s family that never came into existence.

    I buy and wear the poppy to show I think about these people. But I shun the rest of the remembrance industry. My reasons are my own. The same can be said of anyone else who marks 11th November, no matter how they do it.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Robert. And well expressed. I think 11th November or the nearest Sunday matters to us all who are children of the early/middle 20th century in a way it doesn’t much matter if others don’t understand. We were born and grew up in shadows of what must have looked then like continuous war. World Wars one, two, nuclear and cold. Never mind the continuous spin offs in Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam. We commemorate them all how we can.

      Like you, I suspect, I stand in front of war memorials and read the names. I can’t not.

      Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Been very impressed lately with the uncompromisingly peaceful attitudes of Quakers. Used to think they weren’t being ‘realistic’ or ‘tough enough’. Now I realise they’re some of the toughest people I’ve ever met. In their quiet and dignified way.

      Reply
  5. AlanB

    I think it’s very important to remember the death and suffering of all the wars. But the problem with the poppy is that it only remembers the ‘UK and Commonwealth’ soldiers, according to the British Legion who say it is their symbol. Does this mean that we were right and the others were all wrong? Isn’t this just asking for it to happen again? I feel as if I would be insulting all the other war casualties if I took such a one-sided view. Just looking at who suffered in the two world wars should give us some humility. But thanks for reminding me about it again. I did my silence thinking about all this

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks alan, well said. That’s precisely what’s troubled me and many others about the poppies artwork in the Moat at the Tower of London. It only memorialises our dead. It’s nationalistic. And as you say, that sort of thing was a big part of it all in the first place.

      Reply

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