Tuesday, 2 November 2010

a poppy for remembrance

Today I am wearing a poppy.  It is hard for me to understand why some people object to this, but object they do.  It has come home to me that there is quite a cultural gulf between nations on these matters.  I have colleagues from 46 other countries, and only the Brits wear a poppy.  And not all of them do.  That is our custom, and it is our charity, whose aims and values I support, and so I wear a poppy, which shows that I have donated at least a little.  In France they do Remembrance on 1st November, All Saints Day, a public holiday.  I went yesterday to the Place de la Republique in Strasbourg to watch the ceremony.  It was shorter and rather less pompous than the Brit Remembrance Sunday ceremony.  The services were represented but there was no march past, just a wreath laying.  Children helped to lay the wreaths, which I liked.  There was a brief message from the top of the military, which I am told is always locally focused.  This one reminded us that when Strasbourg was under German occupation, which it has been several times in its history, its people were willing to fight and die for freedom.  And then a lone unaccompanied female singer gave us the Marseillaise.  What a tune.  That song was written here in Strasbourg, not in Marseille as some think. And the words make a particular kind of sense, given that Strasbourg has been occupied by Germany, has been in Germany, and has had its people sent to the eastern front. Most of them didn't come back, but the ones who did were often ostracised as having fought for the Nazis.  And this is in living memory. 
Those memories are with us, even if we are much too young for that war to have featured in our lives.  I thought of this when we went to see the wonderful Leonard Cohen in Stuttgart last month.  The first time we saw him together was in 2008, also in Germany, in Lorrach.  He didn't sing The Partisan then.  I saw him in Colmar, Alsace, in summer 2009.  He did sing The Partisan, which is partly in French, in Colmar, and when he came to the lines "J'ai tant d'amis, j'ai la France entiere" (I have so many friends, I have the whole of France) everyone in the audience stood up silently.  It was electrifying.  He sang that song in Stuttgart too, with a very different result.  Most of the audience did not like it.  You could feel it in the room.  Lenny's fan base is not very young, but even so we were mostly boomers and younger, post Second World War - and that song is a very different thing in Germany.

Memories.  Parts of ours are made from those of our parents and granddparents, what they told us, what they knew, and what they did not tell us too.  I think of this when I go to Germany.


Sauti Ndogo said...

With you on much of this Jane, though I can't agree that our Remembrance Day ceremony is "pompous". Other nations might have endless march-pasts and parades of tanks, etc, but the only marchers at ours are the veterans.

Perhaps we could have slightly fewer official wreath layers (? just the Queen but no other royals? ? perhaps just the Speaker instead of all the party leaders?). Having said that, one of the most moving parts of the ceremony for me is the laying of the wreaths by the 50-odd Commonwealth High Commissioners.

Anonymous said...

I feel totally alientated from WW2 - despite being born barely a decade after it finished.
We did not study it at school - parents were always going on about it - it just seemed so dated.

The whole Remembrance thing is very important I know.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see that the French commemorate on the 1st.
I don't agree with this latest thing of having 2 minutes silence on the 11th - our day for thanks is Remembrance Sunday.
There are very few left now who remember WW1, and 11/11/11 has no significance at all for all those who fought in the numerous wars since.

Sauti Ndogo said...

@ anonynmous 1103: I'm in the same age bracket as you (born in the fifties) but feel quite differently. To me, WW1 and 2 created the Britain we live in (apologies if I have mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that you live in Britain).

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do live in Britain - just can't relate to all of the war stuff.

It has just never felt a part of who I am or my life - another country as LP Hartley would say.

Anonymous said...

I think it is very important to continue to pay our thanks and respect to our troops on Remembrance Sunday. With news every week of a soldier who has lost his life in the service of his country it seems very relevant still.

We are not remembering just those who gave their lives in WW1 and WW2but honouring the dead in all the conflicts since then.

You don't have to agree with the war in Iraq or Aghanistan to be able to respect our armed services.

Anonymous said...

Sure - no problem. No-one is talking about abolishing it or not 'respecting'.

But people choose to join the armed forces unless there is conscription - often for a whole variety of reasons and certainly not always because of patriotism, nobility, love for country or the whole Rupert Brookism. Some do. Not all.

Soldiers are the whole mix of humanity - like everybody else, saint and sinners.
Not gods.

Anonymous said...

Both my mother's uncles fought in the trenches. Both were in France in summer 1916. Amazingly, they came back. They never talked to me about it. My family still has a few of the letters they wrote home from the battlefield, which always seem to me a strong argument against war.

When I was young, Remembrance Day was 11 November, not conveniently moved to the Sunday after. And the local Brownies, in uniform, and the local school children, jolly well attended at the local war memorial and kept their 2 minutes silence there at 11am on 11 November. It involved everyone. Not just a TV spectacle to watch from home (or not).