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Some thoughts on Remembrance and poetry




This week sees the start of the British Legion's annual Poppy Appeal to raise money to support serving men and women, veterans and their families.


This week sees the start of the British Legion's annual Poppy Appeal to raise money to support serving men and women, veterans and their families.

It culminates with Remembrance Sunday on November 18th, at which point we will read and hear about soldiers who 'gave their lives'.

That’s interesting and important wording. For a start, you can certainly question 'gave', when actually their lives were taken. But, yes, 'gave' does put across an appropriate sense of sacrifice.

It's the word 'lives', though, that is most significant. Because when we reflect on those who never returned from war, we often think of their deaths and recoil from the unimaginable horror they must have gone through. 

But what they gave was their lives, lives they never got to live. They gave their wedding days, the birth of their children, the day they saw their team win the cup, the time they held their grandchildren for the first time, the years spent in golden retirement with their loved ones.

That, not the moment a bullet struck or a shell exploded, is what they gave - gave up and gave us. Pints undrunk, lips unkissed, ordinary days in quiet towns unlived, those are the desperately sad memorials that no one can see.

It is an idea expressed by Ivor Gurney in To His Love, a poem written in the belief that his boyhood friend, Will Harvey, had died in World War One. It begins, simply: 'He's gone, and all our plans/Are useless indeed'.

The carnage of the battlefield is real enough, and captured by many verses in The Poems of Wilfred Owen and others, but it's the wreckage of the future, of so many futures, that chills and which we rightly continue to remember.

It turned out that Gurney's friend, Will Harvey, had not, in fact, died and both men happily survived the war. But around 886,000 British soldiers did not, leaving their lives, not just their bodies, in a foreign field.

To donate to this year's Poppy Appeal, click here.

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