When small I realised that my birthday was marked by poppies. My parents would take me to the war memorial in my home town. We’d stand there, heads bowed, silent as annually dwindling numbers of old men marched past.
My great grandfather was at the Somme, awarded the DSO, a leg blown off as he manned a machine gun. He died when I was very young. I remember the vivid shade of his ochre coloured cardigan, his glasses, his bald head – the stuffed toy frog that sat on his chair after he died.
My grandfather was at Arnhem. He died just after my Ordinary grade examinations. He didn’t talk about the War to me, to my sisters, but we have a tape recording of him – talking about his comrades booby-trapped, crying – screaming – for help – and not being able to, being completely impotent.
My birthday is bitterweet.
At the Cenotaph by Siegfried Sassoon
I saw the Prince of Darkness, with his Staff,
Standing bare-headed by the Cenotaph:
Unostentatious and respectful, there
He stood, and offered up the following prayer.
“Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial
Means; their discredited ideas revive;
Breed new belief that War is purgatorial
Proof of the pride and power of being alive;
Men’s biologic urge to readjust
The Map of Europe, Lord of Hosts, increase;
Lift up their hearts in large destructive lust;
And crown their heads with blind vindictive Peace.”
The Prince of Darkness to the Cenotaph
Bowed. As he walked away I heard him laugh.”
(Collected Poems p 201)