Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thoughts on Remembrance Day

I’ve spent all but a year of my life living within walking distance of Glasnevin cemetery. It’s a fascinating place, to my knowledge the first secular cemetery in this nation and a treasure trove of history. Last year I managed to find the final resting place of an aunt who’d died shortly after birth – the information had been lost for half a century. It was a very moving time and I commend the trust’s helpful staff and volunteers.

You may wonder at the relevance. It has a sizeable section dedicated to Irish war dead from WWI and WWII. Many had lain in unmarked and unremembered graves for decades. Between 2010 and 2011 Glasnevin Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission erected headstones for Irish servicemen and women, researching their past and contacting surviving relatives. Last year there was a rededication of war memorials in the cemetery.

It’s interesting to note that there are more names on the memorials than there are graves. This is in part because fighting for the British was often frowned on and it was not uncommon for volunteers to give a false name for fear of reprisal against themselves or their families. Our war dead are certainly fewer in number than those of other countries, and steady pay was of course a motive for some, but we can say that they were all volunteers and did not enlist against a backdrop of a war-supporting society.

There still exists some prejudice against these soldiers. I've had some strange looks and unsupportive comments while wearing a poppy, though these reduce each year. And most say nothing or are in agreement with me. I think that Irish society is progressing to the point where we'll hold opinions of our soldiers that are unrelated to the fact that they wore British garb.

Indeed those that hold differing opinions to me on the wearing of the poppy tend to do so because they feel it either glorifies or trivialises war. To them I say this.

The Royal British Legion works hard to provide better support for disabled soldiers, ensuring access to employment and appropriate care and compensation. After World War two, many disabled servicemen were confined to homes out of the public eye, a move that helped keep support for war high. It changes public perception of the cost of war by integrating disabled and injured soldiers into regular society. They raise awareness of what actually happens to soldiers, as opposed to Hollywood ideals.

If everyone knew such a soldier and what they sacrifice, we would have no needless wars.

Note: poppy image taken without permission from the Royal British Legion's website, though I donated £10 to salve my conscience.

1 comment:

Half Past Two said...

Geoff, thanks for sharing these thoughts. For some odd reason I've always harboured a half baked notion that displaying a poppy somehow celebrated war and those that fought in them.
Now, I shall think of the poppy as a mark of respect for those that had lives cut short and as a symbol of the futility of war.