Around the Green is the draft title of a poem that materialised out of nowhere when an invitation to take part in a poetry competition dropped into my email box the other day.
The poem is supposed to be about one’s childhood memories. Our first family house came at once to mind. It was situated close to the village green and the poem mixes my childhood and childish memories and understanding of that house, and the community that lived around the village green, with my adult qualifications of those memories in hindsight.
The second verse- in-progress includes a reference to poppies. The link with poppies is the war memorial that sat (and still sits) at the heart of the green. As a child, I hopped, skipped and jumped around it without any conception of its significance.
The day after I began writing the poem I received a letter. It enclosed a giant red poppy made of thick cardboard. It was an appeal from the Royal British Legion regarding this year’s Remembrance Day.
This Remembrance Day RBL is planting a Flanders Field of Poppies beside the ramparts of the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. In Flanders Fields is of course the famous 1915 poem of that title written by John McCrae, a Lieutenant-Colonel and doctor in the Canadian Army.
On the reverse side of the RBL’s poppy card is space to write a dedication. The idea is that you write a personal message there – about or to a member of your family who fought in the Great War or to someone who has laid down his or her life for their country since then – and then send it back to RBL.
The Legion will then plant all the cards received to form a Flanders Field of poppies at the Menin Gate on 11 November.
Two invitations in two days and each connected by the poppy.
It reminded me of another poem I wrote when doing a painting for an art exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the birth of First World War poet Wilfred Owen. The poem was short – only two lines. To represent the expectation of life for a soldier on the Belgian Front? My poem is so short I call it An Unexploded Metaphor as it is really no more than a single vivid, largely incomprehensible, image. A mystery to be unravelled. It is of a poppy, though the flower is not mentioned directly. Not the real kind of poppy, but the cloth or paper commemorative one with the single jet eye.
It wasn’t just the coincidence of the two invitations that made me decide to take part in the Flanders Fields commemoration. There were always two framed certificates side by side on the wall in the sitting room in my grandfather’s house. One was from The Coal Board honouring his 50 years of service in the coal mines. The other commemorated the day he was honoured with the keys to the city of Ypres. He travelled to Ypres with a group of compatriots in the early 1960s. It was shortly before he died and he was already very ill when he made the journey.
On the way, he stopped off at a small Canadian cemetery in the French town of Vis-en-Artois. The name of his younger brother is carved in stone on a wall in that cemetery. He was killed in the area, a few months before the war ended, his body never identified, like so many others and my grandfather – who himself won two medals for bravery – always said that his brother had falsified his age when enlisting and had been only 14 at the time of his death. My grandfather talked endlessly and daily of his experiences in that terrible war. It coloured his life and by extension, mine too. The colour I guess is red.
Some years ago I travelled to that Canadian cemetery in Vis-en-Artois. At the base of the column where I found my great-uncle’s name carved in stone I placed a single yellow rose. I got it from the florist shop in the village. It was meant to represent the yellow rose that my grandfather cultivated in his rose garden. The rose is called Peace.
In its invitation, The Royal British Legion explains:
“Every poppy planted is one more deed of courage remembered. The Menin Gate is unique because it is the only place in the world where the fallen of the Great War are remembered each day.”
My connection with poppies and also with Ypres urged me to respond to RBL’s appeal. I wrote the stories of my great-uncle and my grandfather on the back of the poppy card and sent it back along with a suggested but not obligatory donation of £15. I’m very happy to know that my card will be part of this new Flanders Field in Ypres.
If you want to take part in this act of remembrance, you can enter online at the Royal British Legion web site. The deadline for entering online is Thursday 1 November.
It’s nearly 60 years since I lived in that house on the village green. The house is gone. Of all the buildings around the green, only one is serving the same purpose now as it was then – The Royal British Legion hall.
I only write poetry when compelled. I think writing poetry should be like that.
- Carry on buying poppies says Barbara Windsor (express.co.uk)
- Today’s News: Call for Journal readers to show Remembrance Day support (journallive.co.uk)
- Traffic warden: ‘I don’t care if you are delivering poppies, you can’t park here’ (standard.co.uk)
- British Legion targeted by poppy thieves (itv.com)
- Charity Knitting- British Legion Poppies (craftmyescape.wordpress.com)
- Royal British Legion, Kyrenia Branch – Poppy Appeal competition (cyprusscene.com)
- Royal British Legion mounts retreat on Major Outrage, the burlesque dancing fundraiser (telegraph.co.uk)
- More arty artness (sweeneybird.wordpress.com)
- Fringe show soldiers visit Poppy vets (scotsman.com)