Saturday 11 November 2017

Remembrance Day

Here's a telling sentence from Giles Fraser's article in yesterday's Guardian:

"...I am always conscious that remembrance is too easily purloined by those who want to celebrate precisely the sort of militarism  and nationalistic chauvinism that led so many young men  to pointless deaths."

That certainly resonates with me, and for some years, in order to try and balance the motives behind Poppy Day I've worn a white poppy* alongside the red one..

In his article Fraser quotes this poem by  Ellis Humphrey Evans, who was killed on the first day of Passchendaele:

Why must I live in this grim age,
When, to a far horizon, God
Has ebbed away, and man, with rage,
Now wields the sceptre and the rod?

Man raised his sword, once God had gone,
To slay his brother, and the roar
Of battlefields now casts upon
Our homes the shadow of the war.

The harps to which we sang are hung,
On willow boughs, and their refrain
Drowned by the anguish of the young
Whose blood is mingled with the rain

I believe the poem was originally written in Welsh.

I shall try to publish this post as near as possible to 11am today, and reflect on  the poem in my Two Minutes' silence.

* These can be obtained from the Peace Pledge Union.  It's probably too late to buy one for this year but you cn read about them here.


  1. In response to this post my friend John Cole Emails:

    Thank you for all of that.

    This year, as in other years, I have felt uncomfortable as I have witnessed the run in to Remembrance Day. It seems to me to have become something between an industry and a circus. The whole sent me searching for Wilfred Owen's superb “Anthem for Doomed Youth”. The last six lines run:

    What candles may be held to speed them all?
    Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
    Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
    The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
    Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
    And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

    How far removed have our national “big events” of Remembrance become from the deep personal simplicities of the “tenderness of patient minds” and the bereaved family member drawing down the blinds.

    I gather that in the fortnight running into Armistice Day those who appear on television – perhaps a panellist on “Question Time” - are provided with the obligatory poppy (should they have been thoughtless enough to arrive without one). I believe the phrase “poppy fascism” has been coined, and I can see where that is coming from. I have a fantasy about my being on “Question Time” and digging my heels in to appear “sans poppy”. Thousands of my countrymen, and those of other nations, have fought to preserve freedom and surely part of that is the freedom not to be compelled to wear a poppy. As a certain preamble to a constitution states – we should not be “enslaved by conformity”

  2. As a further post-script, I am made uneasy by the constant repetition of the claim that the fallen "gave" their lives. I have no doubt that thousands did so willingly, either in the heat of the moment or fully conscious of the consequences of their actions, but I think it is more accurate, particularly of the conscripts, to admit that their lives were "taken" rather than given.

    Taken, of course, as a result of a failure of politics.