When a nation is fighting a war, it is natural for public interest to peak. People read about the soldiers, they want to hear their stories, their lives and their deaths are in the newspapers, on television and on countless internet websites.
Then the war in question ends and people’s interest wanes. Other things come along to dominate the nightly news or the headlines or the talk in parties or pubs. Most soldiers will eventually go home, carrying the mental and psychological scars of war, which will in time fade, if not go away. Some will die and be remembered mainly by their loved ones and comrades-in-arms, and some will become casualties. And these people continue living, remembering a son or a brother or facing life without legs, long after the war they or their loved ones fought in is over. And that is the reason why we must remember them.
After the First World War, millions had been affected by the dreadful carnage and the idea of a day of remembrance of some sort came up. Today it is called Remembrance Day . Poppy Day, which recalls the Armistice on the Western Front, the last Front still fighting. The guns fell silent at 11 A.M. on November 11, or the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
The story of the poppy is intertwined with the setting up of organizations to assist former combatants who were injured or unemployed, one of which was the forerunner of the S A Legion, then called the British Empire Service League (BESL) founded on 21 February, 1921. The SA Legion will turn a venerable 90 next year.
The connection between remembering the war dead and the poppy began on the battlefields of northern France and Belgium, where some of the heaviest fighting of the war took place. The fighting there was also notable for its misery. Soldiers noticed that the only flower that grew after artillery had blasted the battlefields was the blood-red poppy.
The modern-day use of the poppy (Papaver rhoeas), a common flower in much of Europe, to remember the war dead, is linked to three people: A Canadian officer serving in Belgium during World War One, John McCrae, wrote a poem about the flowering of poppies on the battlefields, In Flanders Fields. An American professor, Moina Michaels, wrote a poem in answer to McCrae’s work, We Shall Keep the Faith. Michaels did much to spread the idea of using the poppy to keep the memory of the soldiers’ sacrifice alive. Meanwhile, a French lady, Madame E. Guérin, visited the United States and took the idea back to France, where she had poppies made and sold them to raise money for war orphans and widows.
Extract from media release from the National President of the SA Legion, Lt. Col. Godfrey Giles. For more info ph 011 486 4533
See our events calendar for details of local Remembrance Day services.