To be fair, the covering letter does also mention servicewomen. You can read for yourself what the envelope says:
But were the dead really 'the bravest of the brave? I don't think so. They were the sacrifices to modern mechanistic warfare, sent out to walk, well-spaced apart, across No Man's Land, while the enemy fire hammered them. For most of them, there was no opportunity for courage, and even those who won VCs spent the rest of their lives trying to forget (something which has been movingly depicted by many of my co-contributors to the Stories of WW1 anthology.) But let a man who experienced it speak here.
What passing bell for those who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them, no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
Wilfred Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth
My English grandfather didn't fight in the war: his heart condition forbade it, but my uncle by marriage, Edgar, did - he survived Gallipoli, and his wife, my Aunt Molly, told me about his bad nights, sweating, and muttering in his sleep: 'They're coming! They're coming!' I had forgotten this, till I began re-reading my father's autobiographical fragment for a future blog. As I have said before, my German grandfather was a teenage soldier and two of my great-uncles on the German side were killed; my uncle Leo's head, brutally blown off at Verdun, leers at the myths of heroism.
The British Legion poppy card says 'for all those who fell' - but is that what they truly mean? What will they think if I write Leo Kolodziej on it, 'killed fighting for Germany at Verdun'? Will they include it, or throw it away? Everywhere else, it is stressed that the intention is to honour British and Commonwealth soldiers.Why cannot we remember those who fought on all sides, especially this year?
I was on a British Airways flight to Hamburg a few years ago, and it was the 11th November, and 11am was just after take-off. So the captain came on the air and said we would observe the 2 minutes silence 'for British servicemen.' This was a flight to Hamburg, for God's sake! What would it have cost him to include all the victims of war? If you visit the exhibition of the incineration of Hamburg at the ruined St Nikolauskirche, you will read that Operation Gomorrah was the deserved result of German aggressive militarism. I would take a slightly different view. I think two wrongs don't make a right, and I contest the ethics and even the effectiveness of the bombing of civilians.What had the small, half-Jewish Wolf Biermann,* for example, done to deserve the terror of running across melting tarmac with his mother, to escape the walls of flame? What had all the children done who didn't make it out? I do not apologise (warnings notwithstanding) for posting the following dreadful image, from Dresden (which was full of refugees at the time of the incendiary raid). This is what air-raids do.
View of a public air-raid shelter, with 243 corpses,
fourteen months after the bombing of Dresden
photographer Richard Peter (1895-1977)
Deutsche Fotothek, Saxon State Library/
State and University Library, Dresden
And that brings me to what I dislike about Remembrance Day (apart from the rhetoric of 'heroes); it seems only to be about those who fought and those who were actively engaged in supporting them. But what about the civilian victims of war, world-wide? Who falls silent to remember them? Well, demonstrators, and Quakers. But officially, civilians don't count. Are the British Legion inviting us to remember great-aunts or grandparents and great-grandparents who died in Zeppelin raids, or family members who died in the air-raids of World War 2, even on the British side? Or the countless victims of landmines? They aren't, because they are a charity that works for British ex-service personnel - which is of course why they don't extend Remembrance Day to other combatants. I do think disabled soldiers get a raw deal, and deserve support. But the fact that Remembrance Day seems to 'belong' to the British Legion is questionable, to my mind, because of the excision of civilians. Do we need a second Remembrance Day for them, or is it possible to extend the day, make it more generous, and open the fund-raising field to those who support ALL victims of war?
I did send the poppy back, with my uncle Leo's name on it. I wonder if they will put it in the field?
*Wolf Biermann was an East German singer-songwriter. His father was murdered (and his body incinerated) at Auschwitz, with the whole of his Jewish family. I need not state the irony.