I haven’t worn, nor bought, a poppy since my early teens. At first it was probably due to teenage-angst; a rebellion against those who might have wanted me to conform to normality. Gradually it became twisted in my head until I truly believed that I didn’t want to buy a poppy, nor wear one with pride, because it would somehow be disrespectful to my grandad. He never (or rarely) spoke about his experiences in WWII. In my naïvety I used this as my excuse … how could I even contemplate wearing a poppy, and thus join in with Remembrance Day, if my grandad didn’t even want to remember those terrible years himself?
This is a picture of my grandad before WWII broke out and turned his life upside down and inside out. The woman on the left is my nana. When the war began my grandad was twenty-nine years old and worked for British Rail. He and a friend went and
offered their services signed up immediately, but he didn’t actually go to war until 1942. By this time he had married my nana (June 1940) and become a father to Mumsy (March 1942).
He was an Eighth Army Royal Engineer and the war took him to the Middle East and North Africa regions. He was (probably) involved in battles in Egypt, Palestine and possibly Italy. He came home with a couple of medals and a mention in Despatches, although we’re not sure what for.
I often wonder what life was like when he returned. He and my nana had been apart for nigh on four years. She must have lived in fear of what the next day would bring, and he must have lived in fear of never seeing her again. He missed Mumsy’s Firsts … her First Real Smile, her First Tooth, her First Word, her First Step … their relationship could have been so fraught and so difficult, but they were so close (despite his moods!)
As it happens my Auntie Susan was born about nine months after his return …
But he never (rarely) spoke about his experiences. He didn’t broach the subject at all with my nana until fifteen years after the war ended, and even then what he spoke about was brief. In his later years he was more open, but even then what he spoke of just skimmed the surface. If I try to think about the whirlwind of emotions that he must have gone through my heart just wants to explode with the pain of it all.
And of course, these are all the reasons that I should wear a poppy. I should wear one for all the men who were like him; ordinary men who were prepared to leave their families and fight for the continued freedom of their country. Ordinary men like The Blokey, and The Baby Brother, and the random men I see on the streets … men like you. I should wear a poppy for the women like my nana; ordinary women who waved their men-folk off to war and tried to live as normal an existence as possible under the circumstances, never knowing if and when they would see their loved ones again. Ordinary women like me, and my friends … women like you.
So I promise that next year I will buy a poppy and I’ll wear it with a mixture of both pride and sorrow.
And, if I may, I’d like to dedicate this post to my beloved (and somewhat moody) grandad, Herbert Percy (1910-2001) …
please God bless my nana and grandad, wherever they may be xxx Elsabeth