The Ultimate Peace Symbol

Originally distributed as HVM Society Snippet – No.159

PoppyDear Fellow Mortonites,

The first flower to regrow in soil disturbed by battle is the red corn poppy. This was initially remarked upon during the Napoleonic wars. Later, following the First World War, these bright little flowers were again the first to be seen as the torn, bare earth of no man’s land slowly began to transform back into pasture which, to this day, still carries the deep scars of combat. In 1921 the poppy was adopted as a symbol to commemorate soldiers who have died in war.

London Year, the - Cenotaph small

The Cenotaph, by AE Horne from Morton’s 1926 “The London Year”

In his 1926 “The London Year”, a mere eight years after the end of the Great War, HV Morton described, in moving tones, the Armistice Day ceremony taking place around the newly erected Cenotaph, and the two minute silence that followed the laying of the wreaths:

Now London is hushed. The roar from Charing Cross dies away. Only the jingle of a horse’s bit breaks the silence of a people frozen in memory. Three white gulls fly over from the Thames, circle above the Cenotaph, and go. In Whitehall you feel the silence and the prayer ; for men and women are praying. It is not right to look. It is too sacred. The old memories well up in the heart, the old aches, the great joys, the misery, the gallantry, the laughter, and the tears.

How long two minutes can be! How much can be remembered! How little can a few years touch those things that go right down into the heart. I would not dare to look into a woman’s mind at this time—those women with medals! I would not care to imagine their thoughts ; but the young men— ah! in two minutes how many voices call to us, how many faces we remember, how many friendships, how many are the splendid loyalties of those “unhappy far-off times….”

Today, Monday 11th November is Remembrance Day, marking the 95th anniversary of the end of the First World War. The wearing of the poppy, or the laying of a wreath, on this day has nothing to do with politics, or with glorification and everything to do with gratitude, honour and respect and the determined hope that by remembering the past with all its horrors, we can perhaps be spared a repetition of it. The poppy is the ultimate peace symbol, pure and simple.

Tyne Cot war cemetery, Belgium

Tyne Cot cemetery, Belgium

Langemark war cemetery, Belgium

Langemark cemetery, Belgium

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
11 November 2013

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2 Comments

Filed under Armistice day, HV Morton, Quotations

2 responses to “The Ultimate Peace Symbol

  1. Peter

    Beautifully written, Niall, with the perfect extract from HVM. Many thanks.

  2. In an uncanny echo of Morton, my father (who served in Flanders in 1917-18) wrote in the 60s, in an unpublished preface to his book ‘The Unreturning Army’, that “Many of the names (of the men with whom I had the honour of serving) are forgotten now; but I only have to close my eyes on 1965 to see again these men moving around our gun-position, and hear again the voices of those long dead.
    “In this dim world move the kindly ghosts of the past, and among them someone just like me. Shall we not one day meet again to talk over old times, forgetting all that was ugly and fearful, remembering only the thrills, the humour, and the rich moments of content?”
    And I can see him now, muffled against the cold of a bright November Sunday, thinking those thoughts, more than two bare minutes could hold.

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