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.


El Perro Blanco said...

Having also been the daughter of a soldier, growing up during the 70's with a brief time in Northern Ireland, I feel saddened that anyone would not feel able to wear a poppy. Having been a Brownie and then a Guide I remember the pride in being chosen to be flag bearer, this would have been the Pack or Company flag, for the Remembrance Sunday Parades in different years. I am glad to show my appreciation for the courage and sacrifice of those who served and those currently serving.

Kezzie said...

Wow, I didn't know that about Remembrance day, amazing Germany don't have a day. X

Angela said...

My daughter Liz saw your comment on my post, and added this interesting information;
Germany has their national day of mourning after armistice day. It commemorates not just soldiers killed in war, but civilians, victims of the Holocaust, and people who were killed during the Cold War. More info here:

I thought of you when I saw Dan Mulhall lay his wreath, and remembered that fabulous November weekend I spent in Belfast. It was really challenging to experience 11/11 from a NI perspective.

Let there be peace on earth- let it begin with us. Blessings xx

Fat Dormouse said...

A moving post Mags...and goodness me! That poem. I think I must have read it as a young woman, as I was a huge W.O. fan, but had forgotten it. It is extremely powerful, isn't it?

So many thoughtful blog posts at this time.

Thistle Cove Farm said...

The south, in the US, lost the war but we have Memorial Day where we remember our dead with wreaths, dinner on the grounds, etc.
Recently, I finished Daniel Silva's 'The Marching Season' which was, in part, focused on 'The Troubles' and was enlightening to me.
You and I have talked before about that time and how I compared it to our War Between the States...the similarities if we'd won the War and the North had lost. It still baffles me how we can use religion to foist such devastating evil upon each other.

M.K. said...

Such an interesting post, Mags! I know little of Ireland's intricate history, and understand less. But if it is as complicated as the civil war history in the U.S., it's difficult enough! As a Southerner here (or, even more tricky, as a West Virginian, a state that split in the war!), even after all this time, it's sometimes a difficult topic, and blood pressures are raised. There's still much heated dispute about the causes of the war.
Adam recently watched some interesting videos done by two young men about the differences between the U.S. and Germany. The German fellow was bemused at how rabidly patriotic Americans are. He said Germans would never think about exhibiting such nationalism, that they do not feel pride in the country, or esp. in their army or military. So it doesn't surprise me that they do not have a day of remembrance for their war dead, but it is sad. This man indicated that, after WW2, Germans have had great difficulty in feeling pride in their country. I wonder, for those who live in Europe, if this rings true. I can't tell from over here. But I do think that the display of poppies at the Tower has been quite breath-taking.