Articles about Spirituality

The Time for Remembrance and the Red Poppy
By:Stephen Wakeling

Remembrance and the Red Poppy

Ingrained upon the mind and conscience of mankind is the pain, grief and anguish of war. The ultimate conflict, one against another, has been written about through the pages of history and annals of time.

Suffering and sorrow sketched against the reality of wars, carries on to this day, and sadly beyond. The escalations of one will, against another, keeps mankind in the darkness of decay. The sorrow of war and the carnage it brings, resides within the hearts of many people around the world, friend or foe. But, if we all were to realise that the earth we stand upon, the air we breathe, is to share with all. We are all one family, then perhaps we may one day learn to live in harmony through spiritual acceptance of each other.

During the 19th Century Napoleonic Wars, the terrible destruction of the countryside was to transform bare lands into scarlet fields of red poppies, which grew around the bodies of those who had fallen. The scarlet poppies (popaver rhoeas) grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth throughout the whole of Western Europe. It was in late 1914, when the fields of Northern France and Flanders were once again torn apart as the First World War swept through the heart of Europe.

The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was made more poignant in the poem written by the Canadian Surgeon John McCrae (1872 to 1918). The famous poem “In Flanders Fields”, came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by his comrades and quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in the First World War and later conflicts.

World War 1 was fought in Europe and around the world, between July 28th 1914 and November 11th 1918. Statistically rounded figures have been gathered to the nearest thousand for the First World War to the total mobilized. Though intensive research by historians there will never be a definitive list of the casualties inflicted, which may be in excess of 58 million lives. There were soldiers from Africa, Austria-Hungary, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the French Empire, Gambia, Germany, Great Britain, Gold Coast, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Nepal, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Leeward Islands Malawi, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nyasaland, Nigeria, Rhodesia, Russia, Siberia, Sierra Leone, South African, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, and the United States of America.

The Two-Minute Silence

On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, in 1918 the guns of Europe fell silent. After four years of the most bitter and devastating fighting, The Great War was finally over. The Armistice was signed at 5am in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, France on November 11, 1918. Six hours later, at 11am, the war ended.

In 1919 the first Remembrance Day was conducted throughout Great Britain and the Commonwealth. Originally called Armistice Day, it commemorated the end of hostilities the previous year. It came to symbolise the end of the war and provide an opportunity to remember those who had died.

After the end of the Second World War in 1945, Armistice Day became Remembrance Day to include all those who had fallen in the two World Wars and later conflicts.

In a letter published in the London Evening News on the 8th of May 1919, an Australian journalist, Edward George Honey, proposed a respectful silence to remember those who had given their lives in the First World War. This was brought to the attention of King George V and on the 7th of November 1919, the King issued a proclamation that called for a two-minute silence to create a perfect stillness for all people to remember those who died.

The second Sunday of November is Remembrance Sunday. At 11am a two-minute silence is observed at war memorials, cenotaphs, religious services and shopping centres throughout the country. The Royal Family, along with leading politicians and religious leaders gather at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London for a service and all branches of the civilian and military services are represented in ceremonies throughout Britain and the Commonwealth.

The Poppy

A poppy is any of a number of showy flowers, typically with one per stem, belonging to the poppy family. They include a number of attractive wildflower species with showy flowers found growing singularly or in large groups; many species are also grown in gardens. Those that are grown in gardens include large plants used in a mixed herbaceous boarder and small plants that are grown in rock or alpine gardens.

The flower colour of poppy species include: white, pink, yellow, orange, red and blue; some have dark centre markings. The species that have been cultivated for many years also include many other colours ranging from dark solid colours to soft pastel shades. The centre of the flower has a whorl of stamens surrounded by a cup- or bowl-shaped collection of four to six petals. Prior to blooming, the petals are crumpled in bud, and as blooming finishes, the petals often lie flat before falling away.

The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was written by the Canadian Surgeon John McCrae the poem “In Flanders Fields” came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by his comrades and quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in the First World War and later conflicts, particularly now with those who have fell in latter day wars and conflicts including the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and in other corners of the world.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below...

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields...

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands, we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields...

Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae

(November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918)

The Somme River

At twilight hours we stopped to rest,
When birds they seldom quiver;
They’ve changed their homes they chirp no more,
In trees, besides the Somme River.

I’ve been through Loos and Festubert,
Dark Neuve Chapelle I forgot, no never!
But what I saw will cling to me,
On the bloody banks of the Somme River.

Far from their homes, on Flanders Plain
They sleep alas! They sleep forever,
And dear ones left at home to grieve
For those who fell by the Somme River.

Was it for this she brought me up?
And toiled so hard to make me clever,
That I should help to fill the gap,
Of grief that flows by the Somme River?

Little I thought but when but a boy,
That I should from the dear home sever,
To wander on where is no joy,
By the dreary, darksome Somme River.

Composed in the trenches by:

Private Andrew Mitchell
Black Watch Regiment

Graphic (below) source: Wikipedia