Dear Family of St John’s
Memories are a strange thing. Some memories seem easy to recall, others live just on the edge of my grasp. I find that I struggle to remember what I need to, while the silliest most inconsequential memories stick hard and fast in my mind!
Memories are also odd in the way that two people who have experienced the same situation will remember different things about that situation. Neither memory is incorrect.
This Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday in the year closest to the 11th November. We no longer have many among us who lived through the Great Wars. But, their stories and memories are passed down to us. We are asked to remember, so that we might not repeat.
I’m sad to say that we don’t do this well. We only need to look at the number of countries experiencing war and conflict right now to know that we have not learned much through our remembering.
Nevertheless, we still pause to remember, to pray.
I came across this article on the MOTH (Memorable of Tin Hats) website (moth.org.za) and thought I would share it in its entirety, reminding us of why we wear the red poppy at this time of year, of what and why we remember.
“THE LEGEND OF THE POPPY
By Ken Gillings, Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, 26th October 2015.
In many countries across the world thousands of disabled men and women, ex-servicemen and women and volunteers from all walks of life manufacture bright red paper poppies, these sold and worn during November of each year. Why? Where did it all begin?
In the ancient land of Cathay grew a white flower, known at that time as the “flower of forgetfulness.” This name derived from the effects of the potent drug that was distilled from its bulbous seed pod.
In the year 1213 Genghis Khan turned his brutal Armies westward after his victories in Mongolia, these cruel hordes swept across Europe, destroying entire cities and killing thousands of men, women and children. Everywhere that these brutal hordes went, men died, and out of the barren blood-soaked soil, the flower of forgetfulness sprang up in full bloom. Strange changes took place, the white poppy turned blood red and a black cross appeared in the centre, as nature’s protest to the wanton slaughter. For centuries, Emperors and Kings marched across Europe in bloody conflict and the graves of soldiers became carpeted by the red poppy – especially during WW1.
A Canadian Army surgeon, so moved by this phenomenon that he penciled a poem during the intervals of tending the wounded of the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. This remarkable poem written under fire may not be the greatest of poetry, but it spoke of the Spirit of wartime England and her allies. This army Doctor, Colonel John MacCrae, Royal Canadian Medical Corps, sadly did not survive the war and he, himself lies “In Flanders Fields” the haunting title of this world-renowned soldier’s sad lament.
When “In Flanders Fields” was reprinted in America, it made such a deep impression on an American YMCA worker, Miss Moina Michael that she wrote a sequel entitled “We shall Keep the Faith.” It was Miss Michael who envisaged the idea of wearing the “Red Poppy of Remembrance.” One of her French colleagues, Madam Guerin, took this idea a step further and in 1921 started manufacturing artificial poppies to be sold to help ex-servicemen and their dependents in need.
The Royal British Legion under the presidency of Field Marshal Earl Haig adopted this symbol of sacrifice and remembrance to honour the dead and help the living. It was adopted by the USA, Commonwealth countries and of course by the South African Legion, which uses Poppy Day as a vital source of income to continue with the phenomenal work they do improving the lot of ex-servicemen who have fallen upon hard times. In November, when you wear your poppy, remember that our freedom was bought and thousands paid.
There is a South African connection in Remembrance Day, the 11th November. On the 27th October 1919, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick (who had lost two brothers in WW1) suggested that a minute’s silence be observed annually on the 11th November the date when the War ended. His suggestion was forwarded to King George V, who proclaimed on the 9th November 1919: “That at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all normal activities – so that in perfect silence the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated in reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”
The King’s private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, wrote the following letter to Fitzpatrick:
“Dear Sir Percy,
The King, who learns that you are shortly to leave for South Africa, desires me to assure you that he ever gratefully remembers that the idea of the two minute Pause on Armistice Day was due to your initiation – a suggestion readily adopted and carried out with heartfelt sympathy throughout the Empire.” ”
I encourage you to read the two poems below as part of your act of Remembering.
Your friend and rector,
In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae
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.
We Shall Keep The Faith
by Moina Michael
“Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet — to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the faith
With all who died.
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a luster to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the torch and poppy red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that you have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that you wrought
In Flanders Fields.