When I was a child we had a family pilgrimage. Every year we went on holiday to Portmahomack. The family Ford Anglia was loaded with all our requirements for a caravan holiday in a Scottish summer, along with my mum, dad, brother, sister and me. Despite it being a long cramped journey we would always make a detour to the commando memorial at Spean Bridge. My late father served in the Second World War. He signed up on his 18th birthday. He never spoke of his time in the military. He never mentioned his brothers in arms by name. We don’t know how many were injured or died. And we don’t know the circumstances. But it was important to him that we recognised the sacrifice others had made that allowed us to live the carefree life that we did. Even in the mid-1960s, only twenty years since the hostilities had ended, the Second World War seemed a long way off to a seven year old. But for my father and his generation there were places, events and people that could not and should not ever be forgotten. I believe this remains true today.
The world has not been free of war since 1945, the United Kingdom has continued to participate in conflict across the globe and members of our armed forces are living, fighting and dying in war zones to this day. Personally I find it disturbing that so many return physically or mentally ill and have to rely on charity. If the United Kingdom sends them to war then the United Kingdom should be a safe haven for them upon their return. Too often this is not the case. Organisations such as the Erskine Care Homes for disabled soldiers do a magnificent job and are at the forefront in providing the very best medical care and attention. The Earl Haig Fund was established to raise money to help disabled soldiers. Earl Haig is a controversial person to name a war charity after, given his contribution to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of British army personnel but the charity is credited with stepping in and providing much needed support for many veterans. Its primary source of income was the manufacture and sale of red poppies.
Every year, leading up to Armistice Day the vast majority of United Kingdom citizens would make a donation, take a poppy and wear it as a mark of remembrance. Over time however this simple act has been undermined. Partially, due to the passing of time during which the significance of such an act can become less obvious but also, in some quarters, due to the increasing inference that wearing a poppy is a sign that the wearer supports military conflict. It has, in some areas of the media, become almost a crime, treason, to not wear a poppy. The inference is that wearing a red poppy is the British thing to do. It smacks of a rule Britannia mindset and British imperialism. This attitude has in fact turned people away from the red poppy. Many have taken to wearing a white peace poppy. They feel that promoting peace is closer to their own stance but recognise the poppy as a symbol of acknowledgement to those that have sacrificed their health or indeed their life. I support those people who prefer to wear a white poppy and they must be free to make that choice but I choose to wear a red one. Not because I am told to or because I agree with everything we have done in the last seventy years in theatres of war but for my Dads unknown, unseen, unnamed, comrades in arms. Young men, who in truth, had little or no choice but to offer up their bodies as weapons of war. For me the red poppy is a symbol of remembrance. It says we will not let the men, woman and children of the world be slaughtered in the name of national aggression or political idealism. And we will not forget those that gave their lives to give us the luxury of being able to choose. When I lay a wreath at the war memorial in the Wellpark I shall be thinking of the young men that left this area, from Wellington Street, Finnart Street, East Blackhall Street, Ann Street and beyond. They were joiners, bricklayers, post men, clerks. They were fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, uncles, friends and they never came back.
Lest we forget.