Seventeen years ago my Dad died. He was born on the 7th of November 1932 and died five days and sixty-six years later, on the 12th November 1998. I, therefore, remember my Dad particularly in November. I wear the Poppy for my Dad.
He saw active service in Cyprus and Korea with The Highland Light Infantry. The H.L.I. were based at Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow – nicknamed ‘Hell’s Last Issue’ because of their reputation for toughness. Their symbol was the elephant: tough and strong but also intelligent and kind. Dad was also active in the Parachute Regiment as a young man and remained involved with 15 Para at Yorkhill all his life. As an older man he went from bar-to-bar all across Glasgow in hail, rain and snow delivering and collecting Poppy Boxes to raise money for the war disabled. He enjoyed a pint, it’s true, and he liked bars, but there were times he was really worn out and didn’t want to trudge round the streets of Glasgow collecting boxes, but he did it anyway. He’d seen the men get their legs blown off. He was there. He never glorified war. He never spoke to us about the details, but you could see in his eyes that he had witnessed great suffering.
His army training never left him; he was proud of that. Although, he resented the forced National Service, and made that quite clear to Princess Margaret when she came to inspect his platoon. He broke protocol, spoke to her directly and, shock-horror, looked her in the eye – which earned him a month in Orderly Officers peeling potatoes.
Rebel that he was – he quite enjoyed it. Hey, it gave him a story.
17 years ago we stood in Rutherglen Cemetery on a torrentially rainy November day and buried my Dad as his old army mates – gay few – played The Flow’rs O’The Forrest on the bagpipes as the rain drenched them through. My Dad wore the Poppy practically all year round and those old boys were all wearing the Poppy that day – because it meant something to them.
I wear the Poppy for my Dad who represented the fight for freedom for me – all kinds of freedoms. The freedoms to rail against protocol, the freedom to question the social order of things, and the freedom to live our lives in whatever way we choose. And that includes the choice to wear the Poppy – or not.
Forcing people to wear the Poppy devalues it. Forcing people not to wear the Poppy takes away their freedom. And paying a designer to make a special Poppy just for you so you look better in your presenting job on television is frankly grotesque. The money in the Poppy boxes goes to help those who were maimed in the wars – and who fight on. It’s not a fashion statement.
The Poppy is a symbol of remembrance, a mark of respect. Yes, it has become political, a symbol of pro-war and even a self-gratifying emblem for do-gooders. And some are now attaching it to their lapels just because it’s ‘trending’.
I wear it for my Dad. I remember for him because he can’t. And in so doing my attention is drawn towards those who, with the best will, fought and died for peace.
Put your money in the box if you so wish. Wear the Poppy for your own reasons – or don’t. But please respect each others’ choices.
Thank you Leo Linus Patrick Aloysius Murphy. We will never forget. So you can Rest in Peace.