What do poppies mean to you?

Poppies.  We had thousands of them in Betty’s Wood this summer.  The newly-disturbed ground was a carpet of poppies, mayweed and, a little later, the lovely blue cornflower.  A few days ago we still had one persistent little poppy in flower.  With all the debate in the press this morning about poppies, I took some tome to think what poppies mean to me.

First and foremost, they remind me of my Mum, because they were her favourite flower.  How apt, then, that Betty’s Wood, named after my wonderful Mum, should be full of them, as if she is communicating her delight at our creation of a new woodland and wildlife site in her name, in her memory, and with her help.

Then, of course, they remind me of people in my family who fought or otherwise served their country in the 20th Century wars.  My father and uncle who served in the army in World War Two, and my mother’s brother whose bomber was shot down over Germany and who spent much of the war as a PoW.  My other uncles who mined coal in South Wales.  My great uncle, a policeman, who died in the first zeppelin attack on London in the Great War. My grandfather, who thankfully returned from the trenches of the Great War, only to serve again in the Home Guard during the blitz.  My aunts who served as nurses and dispatch riders.  Other members of my family who served, and continue to serve, in the armed forces today, as well as the son of my closest childhood friend.  Acts of self-sacrifice and bravery that we cannot comprehend in these days of luxury, plenty and easy living.

But why should remebrance stop there?  You see, for me, the poppy, as well as being a beautiful flower, is a poignant reminder of all who died, and continue to die in wars throughout the World.  I cannot see a field of poppies without thinking of not just our servicemen and women, but of all those who died, or whose lives were and continue to be affected by war and conflict.  I think of the Germans, French, Belgians, Dutch, Austrians, Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Japanese, Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Italians, Greeks, Koreans, Vietnamese, and more recently the Bosnians, Kosovans, Argentinians, Iraquis, Libyans and Afghans.  And those affected by conflicts, both external and internal, in which the UK forces have played no part – in Palestine and Israel, in Somalia and Ethiopia, in Sudan, Sri Lanka, Kashmir…the list is endless.

Why should I remember, and think about these people, people I do not know, who don’t come from my own country, who are complete strangers to me?   Because they are people.  Every single one, a precious individual person.  Poppies, to me, are about all of these people who have been affected by, and continue to be affected by conflict, largely pointless, largely irrelevant, but terribly, terribly destructive. 

Is it any wonder we do not respect our beautiful world, and all the other precious living things, when we can’t even respect the other members of our own species?  Even if all conflict between people were to stop, we are continually at war with our own planet and its rapidly-diminishing resources.  All of us are responsible for the plunder and destruction that goes on every day, without cease.  Plunder of the rainforests, of land for growth of biofuels, of rivers, valleys, seas, estuaries, mountains – priceless and irreplaceable habitats for other creatures that we sweep aside and condemn to extinction, many of them before we even knew they existed.

When I see a field of poppies, I think of this too.  With sadness, but also with hope.  Because above all, the poppy is a beautiful and hopeful flower.  Growing in the disturbed fields of France and Flanders, it signalled the hope that things would get better.  In Betty’s Wood, it signals hope that this once ecologically barren field will return to be a haven for wildlife.  We need to remember, and look forward with hope.  Remember our family, friends, strangers, and all creatures that suffer because of the destructive nature of the human species, including our fellow humans.  Look forward with hope that we will one day learn to live with each other in peace, and treat our planet and the species upon it with the respect they deserve.

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