We are approaching the Centenary of the end of World War One and never before have we, as humans, been divided on how to honour and respect those who have fallen in war. Red poppies, white poppies, purple poppies, no poppies, all choices allowed for us with the lives paid during the war.
Here is where things get a bit fuzzy for me. I was raised in a home with two parents born – one before and one near the end of World War Two. My paternal grandfather fought in the WWII, though do not ask me where, as I have pretty much forgotten the details. Not that I did not care, not at all, only I was scared of the stories. He was injured, one bullet hit the back of his helmet (leaving a scar) and a shot in the bum. That last one we found out much later. Grandpa Jensen passed away in 1984 and Veterans Affairs has since allowed the release of his military records. My maternal grandfather, Grandpa Ballan, was a mechanic for the Canadian Air Force; stationed in Chicago, oddly enough.
Maybe “scared” is not the right word. I turn into a puddle of tears when the Remembrance ceremonies are on. In school, I was a nervous wreck, though my mind is placing my current feelings with those I had when I was younger. That is what the passage of time and the influence of education and other humans can do. Growing up in an ultra-patriotic home was tough enough; Remembrance Day was even more smothering. I think seeing my dad and brother putting up the Maple Leaf, the Canadian Ensign (saved from the burn pile, apparently), and later displaying Grandpa Jensen’s medals made me feel even worse.
At one point during the War, my dad’s family got a false notice their father was in Hong Kong. Even today my father has memories of how angry he was, how relieved he felt after it came out as untrue, and the resilience collected after. You need to remember, he lived in a time when veterans from WWI were still alive, some memories of this time were still raw. This rawness led to – in today’s terms – extreme patriotism. It is this patriotism that eventually led me to not wearing a poppy this year.
Without getting into the history of the poppy, as most of us are familiar with the John McCrae poem In Flanders Fields. Being Canadian, this was taught to us at an early age. I remember reciting it with the rest of the school kids at our annual Remembrance Day ceremony. It would make me cry, that I remember. I understood the significance, even at an early age long before I realised my grandfathers’ experiences. Also, without getting into the modern-day political snot-nosed fight over red versus white, I want to make it clear that I would have worn a white poppy if I knew it was available. It would have given my body, my soul and my mind a lot of comfort.
Every day I see some people posting “Lest We Forget” memes, some going as far as say “if you don’t share, you don’t care”. Leave it alone, please. I have had to live with a person who, though in a distant way, suffers from PTSD over the potential loss of a father in the war. I understand you want to honour the fallen, respect those who have served and to remember those left behind, but I ask that you do not make emotional threats. Some branches of the RCL, at one point, were famous for refusing peacekeepers to join as some did not face combat. It took until this year for the Legion to appoint Anita Cenerini as this year’s Silver Cross Mother. Ms Cenerini’s son, Private Thomas Welch, committed suicide after a courageous fight with PTSD after serving in Afghanistan. Suicide is what is taking away some of our veterans and our active service members.
This is yet another reason why I cannot wear a poppy. It is not a punishment to the RCL, who had been a bit behind on the need to push the government in supporting our veterans with mental health treatments. I ask for patience and consideration. You can wear whatever colour poppy you want, even a purple one. You can attach it to your jacket with a maple leaf pin (though the RCL is set against this, as they hold the copyright on the poppy and a pin other than a stick version is a moral violation of said copyright). As well, if you wear it on the right instead of the left, that is okay too, because some people have their heart on the right side of their body.
We need to be thankful for those who fought in the various wars and peacekeeping missions throughout the point of living memory. I do not like using the phrase “they fought for our right to …” as some of these men and women were scared, tired and wrought with guilt. During WWI, young men were given MDMA to help them get over their fear of dying and to fight another day. In WWI, hospitals were set up in the UK to help treat “shell shock” or injuries sustained in battle. Sometimes the treatment included the use of heroin or opium. Some women had to go to work to support the war effort and their young families, leaving their children, oftentimes, home alone. Loss of a family member meant a loss of income. For those who came home, it could have meant a time of mental and physical instability.
Classmates, sacrifices are made in all sorts of ways, and we all have to recognise them. We also need to acknowledge and to commemorate in our own way.