For the first time since I was a little kid when my mother sewed one on my coat, about sixty years or so ago, I will not be wearing a poppy this year. You see, I’m more of a purist when it comes to November 11th. You know the make love not war type who was taught to believe we are supposed to be celebrating the end of war and remembering the lives that were lost.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I will remain silent for 2 minutes and as usual think about the stories of my grandfather whom I never met. He was wounded by a blooper at Vimy Ridge. A blooper I learned at a very early age was a bullet fired from one trench at an angle to land indiscriminately into your opposing enemy’s trench.
The bullet hit him in the hip, the fragments of which could not be removed and it eventually killed him back in Canada 12 years later. My grandmother received a Silver Cross as his death was caused by wounds received during the war. My father hid the medal upon his mothers death, which remained a sore point amongst his siblings. Missing war medals tend to have that effect on families.
The back of the medal was engraved with my grandfathers name, rank and service number. My son who now has the medal entered the service number into one of the governments websites and found a jpg of his great grandfather’s enlistment papers, complete with signature. Apparently they microfiched, then digitized all the old files. Very cool.
The two minutes of silence was always the big deal with my family.
Back in 1971 when I was running a Miracle Mart Department Store. I made the announcement, at 10:59 that we were taking two minutes of silence. That was all that had to be said. All the cashiers stopped hammering the keys of the NCR cash registers, clerks stopped stacking shelves, customers with buggies full of goods, stood silently in line.
Except on this day, an American was lined up at the cash, who having thought he had entered the twilight zone, started shouting “Come on, what’s going on, let’s move it”. All the staff and customers surrounding the man remained silent except for a teenager lined up for the next till, who turned to him and said “We are honouring our war dead’.
I felt sorry for the American, who immediately stood silent with his head bowed and his hand on his heart. When the NCRs started clacking again, he must of apologized to thirty people on his way out of the store. But I understand his confusion.
In the US they celebrate Veterans Day on November 11th which honours all those who have served in their military, while honouring those that died in wars, dating all the way back to the Civil War, on Memorial Day in May.
Both days are national holidays complete with well advertised, store wide sales and in comparison, our two minutes of silence would have seemed to happen anonymously.
Unfortunately that is no longer the case, under the conservative's new finely tuned nationalistic election campaign, we have given up our two minutes of silence in memory of lives lost to a week long celebration of all things military. Now we honour our soldiers, our veterans and our dead as heroes.
Next year we will have a national holiday, complete with Remembrance Day Weekend sales, featuring T-shirts and other apparel priced at $11.11 and poppy shaped cookies sitting next to the pumpkin scones at Starbucks.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not against people making a career choice to join the military but to me it is the same as someone choosing to become a cop or a bus driver.
I take no pride in the government sending them to be blown up while walking down a road in a foreign country or being sent to drop bombs on jihadist dump trucks, no matter what convoluted, military spin the government puts on such events. I feel no pride, just regret and sorrow.
I feel regret and sorrow for soldiers that are killed, maimed or upon their return forced to take their own lives. I feel sadness for their families. And although some may have performed heroic acts, getting blown up in Afghanistan by an IED, shot at a War Memorial by a madman or getting hit by a blooper does not make you a hero, just a victim.
So on the November 11th, I’ll honour those that have died with my silence and hope for the day we can again celebrate peace, but I will no longer wear the red poppy, its meaning, at least for me, has been perverted.