Category Archives: remembrance
Here in Canada, we typically wear red poppies in the days leading up to and including Remembrance Day, as our British cousins likewise do for their observance of Armistice Day, in memory of those who gave their lives. (From what I’ve been told, the practice isn’t very common Stateside for Veterans Day.)
In recent years, however, an alternative custom that is almost as old, that of wearing a white poppy as an anti-war symbol, has become increasingly popular, both here in Canada and in Britain. And has engendered no small amount of controversy in the process. Another battleground in the culture wars, it would seem…
This year, here in Canada, it was the decision of some University of Ottawa students to promote wearing white poppies that led to the latest round of debate on the matter.
I have always worn a red poppy, and will continue to do so, to honour the memory of the soldiers who went off to war, serving in the Canadian military, and ended up giving their lives; and to mourn their loss, while also looking forward to an end to war one day, when the Prince of Peace returns. However, I am not without much sympathy for the white poppy campaign, even though I eschew the leftist, pacifist mindset that both historically has been and still currently is, largely associated with it; I strongly believe in peace, and am fairly anti-war unless a war seems right and just (I am definitely not a complete pacifist). And I am definitely not on board with the neo-conservative turn Canada’s foreign policy has taken under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Tories, and am concerned that, while rightly highlighting the role that war has played in shaping Canada’s history (through such things as their revamp and major expansion of Canada’s War Museum, and last year’s commemorations of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812), they may be doing so for the purpose of encouraging wider acceptance of an increased role for Canada in foreign wars, in the present and future.
I could well see myself perhaps, in the future, wearing both poppies side by side, as depicted above, as a way of reconciling both perspectives – and to demonstrate my belief that we ought to have room for both practices.
I do find it unfortunate, though, that something like this has become so divisive; a sign of the times, truly…
Though this actually isn’t the first time a controversy has arisen around poppies; as this article points out, Canada’s red poppies have undergone design shifts, from the black centres they had when they first started, to the green ones I remember from my childhood, back to the black ones again a decade ago; I remember a period of time when both were present; though not discussed in the article, some people favoured the green centres, emphasizing hope, and life, while others felt the black centres were both more realistic (in terms of what the actual poppies in Flanders Fields have), and more appropriate for mourning those lost – which was my view; I sometimes used black markers to colour green centres black, if I couldn’t get a poppy with a black one.
I suppose “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, as the old saying goes…
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
– Laurence Binyon, “For the Fallen”
Here is a YouTube multimedia presentation someone did with it; it includes some Canadian images, because it was used in a Remembrance Day service at a school here in Canada, evidently.
Now when I was a young man, I carried me pack,
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback,
Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915 my country said Son,
It’s time you stopped rambling, there’s work to be done.
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun,
And they marched me away to the war.
And the band played Waltzing Matilda,
As the ship pulled away from the quay
And amidst all the cheers,
the flag-waving and tears,
we sailed off to Gallipoli.
And how well I remember that terrible day,
How our blood stained the sand and the water
And of how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay,
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk he was waiting, he’d primed himself well
He shower’d us with bullets, and he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.
But the band played Waltzing Matilda,
When we stopped to bury our slain,
We buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
Then we started all over again.
And those that were left, well we tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive,
Though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
And when I woke up in my hospital bed,
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead.
Never knew there were worse things than dyin’.
For no more I’ll go waltzing Matilda,
All around the green bush far and free
To hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me.
So they collected the crippled, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay,
I looked at the place where me legs used to be.
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve, to mourn and to pity.
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway.
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared,
Then they turned all their faces away.
And now every April, I sit on me porch
And I watch the parade pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,
Reliving old dreams of past glories
And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore.
The tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question.
But the band plays Waltzing Matilda,
And the old men still answer the call
But as year follows year,
more old men disappear.
Some day no one will march there at all.
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by that billabong
Who’ll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me?