Sunday, 9 November 2014
When I was in London at the start of last month everyone told me to go to see The Poppies. I will be honest and say that they were not top of my list. I grew up the daughter of an army man in Belfast in the seventies and it was not good.
So while my father and my brother are both now members of the British Legion, and while I go to buy poppies from them, and while I talk much to the boys, especially at this time of the year, about war and its consequences, I am not comfortable with these long weeks of remembrance.
Interestingly I have a colleague in work who grew up in the South of Ireland. Her grandfather volunteered to fight in the Second World War, as many Southerners did. She has however been struck by the intensity of remembrance since her move North. I do think, and this will be a very different experience from across the water, that Remembrance has often been appropriated by one side of our communities here in the Frozen North, like the Irish language and Ulster Scots, like hurley and rugby, like flags, like the National Anthems.
It is very exciting then to see today that Irish diplomat, Dan Mulhall, laid a wreath at the London Cenotaph, that Taoiseach Enda Kenny was at the emotive Enniskillen Memorial for his third time, and that Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, went to Belfast's ceremony.
Angela from Tracing Rainbows happened to be visiting us in Belfast on Remembrance Day a few years ago. I had to explain to her, in tones hushed for the demographic of the crowd as much as by the solemnity of the occasion, that the Mayor was not there because he was from Sinn Fein, but that the Deputy Mayor would be happy enough to attend because he was from one of our many and disparate unionist groups.
She has a fabulous post today about the Hovering Angel. I had seen a picture of it this week on a Radio 4 link. The accompanying paragraph said that Germany had lost twice as many people as Britain's 880246, but had no national day of remembrance. The boys wanted to know why. Maybe because only the winners get to celebrate their lost? Maybe that's why here in the North we still fight for our right to remembrance not just for what we have lost, but also for what we think we have won. Mind you, history does point to the sad fact that here in the North we just fight!
So my soul looks to the hovering angel tonight. It broods as I do thinking about all the colleagues Dad lost, all the rivers of blood seeping from countries near and far. I did go to see The Poppies at the Tower, and I have ordered two for my Legionnaires, and I was moved by the scale and the sadness and the beauty. I stood for a long time in the warm gold of early evening and watched the wave wash up over the bridge. I said the other day that my favourite war poem is Owen's Parable of the Old Man and the Young, and I think of it every time I see a Prime Minister at the Cenotaph,
But the old man would not so, but slew his son
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.