Friday, November 10, 2006

Lest We Forget ...

from Jacqueline

Well, as you can imagine, the newspapers here have been having a field day this week, drawing lines of similarity between the Fall of Blair and the Burning Bush. Today's Independent newspaper charted the fate of those international leaders who had supported the invasion of Iraq, and the way in which they've gone down, one by one. Interesting, eh? And with the headline on the day after the US midterms elections declaring, "It's the war, stupid," along with a photo of GW, there was particular poignancy coming at a time when virtually the whole population of Britain is wearing a red poppy in honor of Remembrance Day (the British Veteran's day) on November 11th. Lest We Forget.

In Britain November 11th is not a say of sales, a day that heralds Thanksgiving, or some other big national holiday. Instead, it is a day to remember the dead of all wars, to reflect upon their sacrifice, whether willing or not. At 11 o'clock, the exact time that the Armistice was signed to mark the end of hostilities on that cold November day in 1918, buses will come to a standstill, supermarket and boutique tills alike will cease to ring, and people will stand in silence, just for two minutes, to reflect upon those who have died in a time of war. Today, at Paddington Station, I watched as a group of teens allowed an elderly man pin poppies to their sweatshirts - the manner in which the younger generation respects the day touches me as much as the rituals of their grandparents who remember, perhaps, the Second World War, Korea, or even the Falklands - my, how time flies.

A funny thing happened to me this week - thanks to the internet, I met up with the girl I sat next on my very first day of school, when I was five years old (now, that's going back). We both had blonde braids, big brown eyes and - of course - identical school uniforms. People used to ask if we were twins. We lost touch in our teens, moving in different directions. I remember the day my mother called to tell me that Wendy's brother, who had joined the navy, had been killed when an Exocet missile hit his ship in the Falkland's war. I remembered him so clearly, remembered that on Wendy's first sleepover, her brother had cycled all the way out to our house the next morning, because he missed her so much. My mother bought us popsicles, which we savored while looking out at the warm summer thunderstorm he'd just missed.

We talked about him this week, my old friend and I. She told me that, twenty-four years on, she still can't believe that he's gone. Her eldest brother, who was partially sighted, was struck completely blind with the shock of his brother's death.

Since I began writing my novels about Maisie Dobbs, a former wartime nurse turned private investigator - a woman as shell-shocked as any man who has gone to war - I have received many emails from the veterans of war, so "Lest We Forget" is something of a constant. Just before I left for the UK last week, I received a letter from a lady of 94 whose father took his own life when she was a child - he could no longer live with his memories of the Great War. She told me that my books had helped her to answer some questions, to give her some level of peace, in being able to understandwhat he might have suffered. It's very humbling to receive such a letter, and - I hope - explains why, sometimes, I just can't let the pity of war go.

On Saturday afternoon, though, I will be at a wedding. My best friend's son is getting married to the love of his life. Perhaps it's a good day for them to be wed, for Ian, a soldier, has already seen action in Bosnia and Afghanistan. The sun is set to shine tomorrow as friends and family come together to encircle them with love and blessing for their future together.

I'll be flying home on Tuesday, back to a US of A that will have changed not one bit, but, on the other hand, more than a little since my departure. After some three months on the road with my book tour, I can't wait for my days to take on the rhythm of ordinariness, to begin writing my next book, and to see my husband every day.

So, seeing as I'm in the land of my birth, on this weekend of remembrance, reflection - and hope - I will leave you with the words of Rupert Brooke, who died of wounds in The Great War, 1914-1918. This fragment is from the poem: The Old Vicarage, Grantchester and was written in 1912.

"oh! yet Stands the Church clock at ten to three?And is there honey still for tea?"


  1. Hi Jacqueline.
    I've been thinking of Armistice Day all of this week - and my thoughts have mirrored yours. To the point of emailing a friend in England to wear two red poppies on Saturday - one for him and one for me. And when all of the old soldiers gather at the local pubs - to hoist a pint for me too. I'll be thinking of them and those gone before on Saturday. I've never grown used to the American idea of Armistice Day, now renamed Veterans Day. Too much flag waving, patriotism, sales, holidays, and not enough remembrance. Though one's heart does go out to those families who have heartwrenchingly lost a son or daughter in Irag or Afghanistan. Rhode Island lost another young soldier who only came home this week for his funeral, sad to say.
    We also celebrated the turn of the tide this election Tuesday. Maybe now we can work together to find a solution to the Iraq problem and their now impending civil war and bring our people home. Sometimes, having military service behind me sucks: I can see some of the roads taken by the administration and only see the 'inevitable'.
    For those who've died, whether on today's battlefields or yesterdays:
    "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them..."
    I feel for Wendy's loss, and wish you both comfort for her brother's loss and your memories of him. Remembering him keeps him alive to the world, when the memories of so many gone before have passed into eternity.
    Meanwhile, find joy with the living and the celebration of your friend's son's wedding - and the universe keep them all safe.
    With all best wishes,
    Marianne (ANZAC to the end)
    PS: I read a book called 'London Calling' by Edward Bloors, this week. It was very moving - you might be interested in reading it, although the war it refers to is WWII

  2. I'm so glad to know that the UK does the moment of silence. I wish we still did it here. And what a wonderful image, the teenagers getting the poppies pinned to their shirts--that and Rupert Brooke made me tear up.

  3. I remember when poppies were given out on streets all over the US. That was before Armistice Day became Veterans Day and before we had too many other wars under our belts. Too bad "Lest We Forget" has been forgotten.

  4. from Jacqueline

    When I first came to the US, I wore a poppy on November 11th, and was asked why I was wearing a flower on my jacket. I think, perhaps, it is time to bring back the poppy to Veterans' Day in the US - there has to be more to the day than the Macy's sale.

  5. Let's start a movement. This is the beginning of a new era...who knows what we may be able to accomplish.

  6. What a beautiful post....

    And I remember the poppies from days gone by, and I too wish we could bring them back...

  7. from Jacqueline

    OK, next year I'm going to ship over a box of poppies and hand them out on Veterans' Day. When I was a child they were made by "old soldiers" of the Great War who had been blinded during the shelling, and today, as then, all proceeds from donations go to veterans of war.

  8. Jackie, all you have to do is wear one on your next television interview and the world will take note.

  9. Read yesterday on the BBC website the story of the origins of the red poppy for November 11. Turns out the custom started in the USA by a lady moved by McCrea's Flanders Field poem.
    Yes, the custom should come back to the USA. I've a Haig Fund paper red poppy I purchased 12 years ago. Wore it yesterday and will wear it today in San Francisco.

  10. YES! Alice that is so cool. I wish I had one of those old poppies. I would have worn it, too.

  11. Last night at dinner, I was very surprised to hear my own father comment on how the USA's Disabled Vet group used to sell the poppies until the custom died out here during the Viet Nam War. Even more surprising, a young cousin knew what WWI was thanks to a substitute teacher who told his class last Thursday about that war. "Very strange it was," small cousin said, "they were banging away at each other, killing each other, and then at 11AM, the guns just stopped."

  12. Thank you, Jackie, for another of your many lovely and poignant posts. I called a few VFW Posts, but no poppies to be found. Count me in on any movement to bring them back, and may I have one of yours next year?

    Tom, T.O.