By Tommy Sheridan
Armistice Day is on 11 November and is also known as Remembrance Day. It marks the day World War One ended, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918.
Since 1919, on the second Sunday of November (otherwise known as Remembrance Sunday), a two-minute silence is held at 11am at war memorials, cenotaphs, religious services and shopping centres throughout the country to remember all those killed in conflicts.
According to the Royal British Legion the act of remembrance should be personal:
“The Act of Remembrance is brief and non-religious, making it exceptionally well-suited to personalised commemorations. You may assemble whatever readings, music or other elements you wish to accompany the Act of Remembrance in order to make your own ceremony or event relevant to your particular community” https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/get-involved/remembrance/about-remembrance/act-of-remembrance.
The reference to “personalised commemorations” is vital today and tomorrow. In recent years the development of red poppy promotion led by the BBC has undermined the solemnity and seriousness of the occasion. From a personalised and solemn commemoration we have been pushed into an indulgent, petty, corporate fashion led fiasco that runs completely counter to the whole principle which inspired the original commemoration 100 years ago.
In 1919 thousands gathered to express sorrow at the loss of their loved ones and to promise never to forget them. In the words of the Remembrance Exhortation:
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.
Remembrance was always supposed to be personal. It was never meant to be an exercise in collective red poppy wearing or shaming those who choose to wear a white peace poppy or none. The obsession with wearing red poppies is a relatively new development, both in football and everyday life. It is only in the past decade or so that the emblem has changed from being associated with grief, loss and remembrance to a crossover fashion/political statement.
The flower now adorns the shirts of many football teams. Enamel badges that incongruously twin poppies with club crests are available. Television personalities wear jewelled, sparkly versions that get bigger and more flamboyant by the year. As the political discourse has become more poisonous, the intolerance towards people who do not wear poppies has grown.
Today I will attend a football match at Parkhead in Glasgow. It is the home of Glasgow Celtic a club with a rich and proud Irish heritage originally formed back in 1888 with the purpose and mission to raise funds to ensure poor families in the East end of Glasgow, many of them Irish immigrants fleeing poverty and hunger, were fed. Those Irish traditions are as strong today as they were at the end of the 19th century.
Given Britain’s long, brutal, bloody and continued exploitation and occupation of Ireland it is understandable that many of the 60,000 fans who turn out today will choose not to wear a red poppy which has become so acutely hijacked by the British elite and establishment to represent more than remembrance and now be a symbol of glorification of war and rank hypocrisy in the eyes of many.
The stadium will honour the silence before the match as a mark of personalised remembrance and respect for all who have fallen in wars during and since the Great War of 1914-18 that was supposed to be the war to end all wars. But that silence will be personalised remembrance and respect for fallen loved ones and the futility of war not support for the British army or more wars.
The Bloody Sunday Memorial in Derry’s Bogside in the North of Ireland bears only 14 names but each of them was an unarmed civilian gunned down by British Army paratroopers on 30th January 1972. It is understandable that many Scots with Irish connections refrain from wearing a red poppy that has become so associated with support for the British Army. That is not what Remembrance Day was supposed to be about.
I always try to mention Harry Patch every year at this time. Harry was Britain’s oldest surviving soldier of the First World War.
Even an ounce of understanding surrounding the First World War is enough to convince me that far from being glorious, necessary or justified it was nothing short of inhumane carnage which destroyed millions of lives.
The words of the likes of Harry Patch (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/last_tommy_gallery_03.shtml) are necessary today of all days to remind us what wars really represent. They are not about glory and self-sacrifice they are about pain, sorrow, loss, suffering and the brutalising of humanity. His words should be taught in every school alongside red poppy appeals;
“I felt then, as I feel now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder”.
“Legalised mass murder”, that is how Harry Patch described the war he was conscripted to fight in under instruction by Tory politicians and orders from Commanding Generals like Earl Haig.
Many ex-servicemen I have met during my life despise the way war is effectively glorified at this time of the year.
They detest the smug politicians who stand in line to hypocritically lay wreaths of remembrance while continuing to fund the war industry and support conflicts across the globe.
Surely the way to truly remember the war dead is to dedicate ourselves to peace not to fund nuclear weapons and order young men and women into illegal invasions and occupations of other sovereign countries.
Proper provision for those who have served in the armed forces should be the job of government every day of the year not subject to emotional appeals aimed at those often least able to financially support others.
By all means wear a red poppy in memory of the fallen in all wars but don’t demand others remember the fallen in the same way. Some don’t require to wear poppies to remember the war dead. Others prefer to wear the white poppy of the Peace Pledge Union.
The Prime Minister and his Government Minister cronies will lay wreaths on Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph in London. These are the people who continually fund illegal and immoral nuclear weapons while ex-service men and women struggle to get by on inadequate pensions and welfare support. These people more than any need a political commitment to welfare not warfare. Yet the Tory toffs and Establishment lackeys wear smug expressions alongside their red poppies as if they actually cared about the millions now dead as a result of their war mongering policies throughout the years.
Ever since I learned the words of Wilfred Owen’s haunting classic poem/song highlighting the grim realities of wars I have been opposed to them and committed to nuclear disarmament. If you want to remember those who have lost their lives in wars, read that poem over and over again here http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/owen1.html Then understand why he wrote with such passion and anger against those who sought to glorify wars;
My friend you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
There is nothing sweet or right or wonderful or glorious in fighting and dying for one’s country. It is tragic, brutal, dehumanising and more often than not completely pointless.