Friday, 11 November 2011

Poppy thoughts

Poppy thoughts:

I am part of that generation, a teenager at the end of the 60s, student life in the early and mid 70s, that shunned poppy wearing. It all felt a bit like remembering war was close to glorifying it, and as I recall, we all wanted to .."give peace a chance".

Gradually, over the years, mellowing politically, as most of us do, I have forgotten some of the reasons I used to give for not wearing a poppy. I think people wear them for all kinds of reasons now, that maybe were not part of the agenda then, when the wars we were remembering were the two world wars, and the one we were trying to see the back of was Vietnam.

So, in recent years, I have bought my poppy, worn it on 11/11, if I've been able to remember where I put it after I bought it, joined in 2 minutes silence, and genuinely reflected on the horrors of war, and been grateful that I have had no serving soldiers within my close family or amongst friends.

This year has been really different.

Last December I finished transcribing the "war memoirs" of a good friend's father. He was in the London Rifle Brigade, and joined up at 19, in 1939. He is 91 in a few weeks time, and still suffers from night terrors. His son wondered if writing things down might help him deal with some of the horrors he still feels on a daily , or rather, nightly basis. He saw dreadful things, close friends killed by snipers, standing next to him, distorted bodies of English and German boys.....tarring and feathering of collaborators,  gruesome sights that I could only imagine, as I transcribed his spidery handwriting.

Today I have been thinking of Mike Hicks and all the friends he lost, and hoping that Mike copes with today as I know that it is always hard for him.

Also, during the last year I have been working on my own family history. My infamous bigamist grandfather who had 3 wives who knew nothing of each other, and 3 sons, the youngest being my dad, who also knew nothing of each other's existence. Grandfather William Murch-Whelen deserted his first wife at the end of the 1st World War. He had married her in 1912, their beautiful curly haired son John was born in 1914, and then he went to war. He never went home. He was awarded medals for meritous service beyond the call of duty, in France and Flanders, but he never went home....he went on to marry and desert another wife and child before he met my grandmother, who he also "married".

He was an old ( not actually very old...only 60 ) man during the 2nd World War. He became a firewatchman, until he had a complete breakdown, and was sectioned. He died in a mental hospital at the end of 1945.

So, I have also been thinking about my grandfather. The cousins I have discovered that share the same bigamist grandfather, and I have forgiven him for what he did to the women and children he deserted. I expect they were thinking about him today as well. I can only guess at what he saw in the trenches, and I am unable to judge him for what at first seemed to be unforgiveable actions in his relationships "at home".

I have also spent today thinking about Luther Adolphus Dawes, Herefordshire Regiment, born 1896, died 1917, buried in a war grave in Beersheba ( now Israel), that no family has ever been able to visit. He was one my other grandfather's older brothers, one of my great grandmother Mary's babies.

 Luther's grave

So, Mike, William and Luther..... today I wear my poppy, maybe for the first time ever, in real remembrance of you, but also because I think my youthful feelings about it all were basically right. We must hate war, and what it does to our children. Mike and William and Luther were children, no matter how old they actually were.

The road on which our new French house is situated is called "Rue du Maquis de Trassanel". Les maquis were the resistance fighters that lived in the mountain areas of southern France under the Vichy government. Just a few miles from our house, 48 resistance fighters were killed in cave in Trassanel, where they were hiding, in 1944. Most of them were..... young boys..... just children.

                  The memorial to the members of the Trassanel maquis.

I am so happy that Kieron is no longer in the army, I am so happy that Jan and Mick's son Peter changed his mind about joining up. I understand people's pride in what their children do when fighting for their country. I am proud of Mike and William and Luther.....but I am devastated by what war does to people, and families....and by wearing my poppy in remembrance, I am also childishly, teenagerishly wishing for peace.


  1. This is such an excellent post, Janice. I've really enjoyed reading it and it resonates so much with my own altered/determined view. I was with you back in the anti-poppy wearing '70s though have, in more recent years bought poppies. What I now feel is that we have failed to respond effectively to that poignancy and all those years of 'remembrance', which is also what you are saying. We agree, of course!

    All families have their stories - yours is fascinating! I look forward to hearing more about them all.

    And again, all of this makes really good reading. Axxx

  2. As Annie says, a really beautifully written and heartfelt post. I'm a bit older than you, but your thoughts and feelings resonate with me too, as you write about your family's involvement in war. Being a pretty new blogger myself, for very much the same reasons as you, I wrote a post on 11/11 about my Great-Uncle Walter who was killed in WW1.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this too Mum, it's beautiful, and quite emotional for me. Makes me want to give you a big hug.
    I love your blog x

  4. Hi Janice, Came across your blog while researching Maquis de Trassanel following our brief conversation this morning at the cafe. Very interesting and so tragic. You should definitely join the HGM
    Hope to see you Saturday night. Anne