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wearing my poppy with pride

I’ve had terrible trouble with my poppy this year. The first one’s stalk broke within ten minutes. I replaced it with a stick-on one which had disappeared before I had even got home. The third one fell to bits today as I put on my coat after a delicious lunch in a tapas bar  (aubergine stuffed with pine nuts, fresh anchovies, a warm beetroot salad and tortilla). As I scrabbled under the tables to retrieve the various bits, the cardboardy red flower, the flimsy leaf and the black centre button, I heard someone mutter, ‘Why do you bother?’

Straightening up I glanced at him, wondering whether he meant why did I bother rescue the poppy pieces, or why did I bother wear one at all. I was tempted to say that I bothered because, whatever the rights and wrongs of it, young men just like him had died fighting in wars. But my friends were waiting at the door and I didn’t want to get into a big discussion (and judging by the look of him it wouldn’t have been a fruitful discussion anyway). So I just smiled apologetically and left. Later of course I wished I had said something.

Several years ago we spent a week in Sicily with some friends. Before setting off we happened to visit my elderly aunt who reminded me that her brother Basil (my uncle, a  wartime glider pilot) had died during the invasion of Sicily in 1943 and was buried in Siracusa.  ‘It would be so lovely if you could go and put some flowers on his grave,’ she said and we promised that we would if we could.

Unfortunately when we arrived in Sicily we discovered that we were staying right at the other end of the island. ‘It’s too far,’ we said to each other. ‘It would take hours to drive all over there.’

But we felt guilty – after all my uncle had sacrificed his life and we wouldn’t sacrifice one day of our holiday. So we decided to go.

It took us seven hours solid driving to get from from Capo San Vito to Siracusa. (Sicily is somewhat bigger than it looks on the map.)

We arrived at about three in the afternoon, bought two bunches of flowers and made our way to the cemetery.

We were completely unprepared for the emotion that hit us. Lines and lines of small white headstones, each engraved with a young man’s name. We found my uncle’s grave quite easily, it was in the front row. Capt Basil Beazley, 29 years old.

The glider assault had been a disaster. They were launched from too far out to sea and the winds were too strong. Most landed in the water, some even crashed into Mount Etna. Military planning at its worst. Those young men must have known their chances were slim, but they did it anyway. Amazingly my uncle survived the landings but was killed later trying to hold a crucial bridge.

Seven hours later we arrived back at the villa in the pitch dark. ‘Did you have a good day?’ Our friends asked as we staggered in.

We looked at each other. For some reason I wasn’t on the car insurance so my partner (now husband) had had to drive the whole way. ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘We drove for seven hours, cried for twenty minutes and then drove seven hours back again!’

But it had been worth it.

We had picked up some pebbles and a bit of dry earth from the grave and when we gave these to my aunt a few weeks later she cried too. ‘I still miss him so much,’ she said.

That’s why I rescued my poppy.

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11 thoughts on “wearing my poppy with pride

  1. Maria McCarthy on said:

    A truly touching story. And I’ve got a theory about ‘fragile poppies’ (I keep breaking/losing mine too) – it’s a deliberate design fault so we have to buy another one (or two) in the run-up to Nov 11th!

  2. Dear Helen.
    I find your thought and feelings about wearing the Poppy really positive.I personally find Rememberance Day really poignant,I was especially moved by the
    Albert Hall “Experience,on saturday,”so much more than just watching a show.
    .I do not use that word lightly,as I feel if we are really caring about the people of the past,(and there are folk alive who still mourn lost loved ones from the 19/14/18 war,) we surely must mourn with them,and all those since that bring us to this day,as we lost yet another brave young man yesterday.
    I watched the faces of the men who stood below the shadow of the Bomber Command plane,and their faces told you they were still reliving those terrible times and would until they die.
    Yesterday as I walked to my car in Hereford I was passing the Cenotaph where there was a Service going on,three young lads walked past and the one joked about
    “what are they worrying about,are they expecting a terrorist attack”unfortunately they had passed before I had chance to say “Those are possibley familys whose,
    sister,brother or other members of their familys,had died that we might be free.
    Free to speak our minds even when its hurtful,to others.
    So like you Helen I wear my Poppy,+ one on my car all year round,which makes sure that I remember 365 days a year how blessed I am because of the sacrifice
    Those men and women made and continue to make.
    Thank you Helen for your thoughts, that stimulated me to share my thoughts.

  3. Hi Helen, I was interested in your reasons for wearing a poppy as have had mixed feelings about doing so. However you prompted me to think about my 97 year old grandfather who died last year. He lost two of his brothers in the Second World War and uncles in the First WW. He experienced considerable loss in his life including the death of his two sons and both his wives. Gramps was a stoical man and kept his feelings very much to himself but he was thoughtful and wise. So now I am going to buy and wear my poppy with pride knowing that I dont advocate war but will remember all the people who died during war timea whether they were in active service or not. By the way, I think you dealt with the situation in the tapas bar appropriately; sometimes people do not deserve an explanation! Cathie x

  4. A beautiful remembrance. The physical journey you made was as nothing compared with the emotional and spiritual one of acknowledging your ancestor’s personal story. No wonder you want to wear your poppy with pride. Thanks for sharing, Helen 🙂

  5. I completely understand your reaction! When I was about 14 my parents took my sister and me on holiday to Normandy – they were always very keen to teach us about history (igniting an interest that stays with me to this day).

    I wanted to go and see the Normandy landing beaches and of course, we couldn’t not see the cemeteries. I remember to this day how much I cried at the sight of those acres and acres of crosses and beautifully tended plots – American I think, but the nationality didn’t matter, or the particular conflict. The sacrifice spoke for itself. That’s why I, like you, will get through about five poppies this week. They fall off, they break apart but that’s not the point – they’re for all the fallen.

    Lest we forget.

  6. Thank you for this beautiful story. I so admire the wearing of the poppy I see each year when I watch the BBC news broadcast on our local PBS channel here in the States and so wish we had this tradition.

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