Thursday, 8 November 2007

In remembrance

I surprised myself today by buying a poppy badge for Remembrance Day (upcoming on the 11th). There was a man sitting outside the grocery store, not pushing his wares at all, simply there with his artificial poppies and badges. Normally I would just walk straight past. Those of you who know me personally, know that I am strongly anti-war and at times awkwardly anti-military. My pragmatic self admits to the necessity of arms and armies. My idealistic self believes them not to be necessary, an admission of failure on the part of humans to be civilised. And like most people, I don’t like failure particularly a failure that is so often repeated.

Recently though, I read Jane Urquhart’s The Stone Carvers, a novel about German migrants in Canada. The focus of the novel is the creation of the massive Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Actually the focus of the novel is the amazing characters with which it is peopled, but the hook on which the story is hung, is that of the memorial. Reading about the experiences of Tilman, a probably autistic young man, in the trenches, reminded me that the First World War was fought by young men who did not have much say. The failure was not theirs but their governments’, yet they were the ones who fought in the trenches and died horribly. For them I will wear a poppy.

One passage in Urquhart’s book made me think of the Rosewood Scrub and wonder about its inhabitants’ response to World War One. She writes:

No one in Shoneval wanted to enlist. This reluctance would be later attributed to the German background of the village by a simplistic but effective propaganda machine designed to make people in Canada increasingly aware of racial and ethnic difference. The truth was that nobody wanted to enlist because they had spent the Sunday afternoons of their childhoods listening to grandparents count their blessings – the most important of which was freedom from armed conflict. Large proportions of the elder population had left behind war-torn Bavaria in their youth precisely for this reason. Even more had left behind the constant deadly squabbles over Alsace. They had not abandoned ancestral homelands, endured the misery of a pitching ship, battled armies of trees and insects, watched their spouses and children die wretchedly and far too soon only to see their grandchildren return to the battlegrounds from which they had fled.

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