“You have blood on your hands,” she said as she jabbed me in the ribs. “And you’re celebrating mass murder.”
As a travel writer with a British passport, the first statement is something of an occupational hazard.
Never mind that for most of the events in question I wasn’t even alive. That even if I had been alive, I probably wouldn’t have been eligible to vote. And even now that I am alive and able to vote, my vote seems to make no difference as to what the British government decides to do.
No, this was about something else. This was about Poppy Day.
Poppy Day, as it’s known to most people, or Armistice or Remembrance Day in more official terms, takes its origins from the end of the First World War. After four years of battle, during which more than 15 million people from more than 100 countries died, fighting finally stopped at the 11th hour on the 11th day on the 11th month in 1918. History has not been kind to the details of the deal.
On the fields where 60 000 men could be slaughtered in a single day, scarlet poppies grew among the mud, the ammunition, the barbed wire and the corpses.
Those poppies became the symbol of remembrance.
That’s the historical background, but Poppy Day itself has broadened its scope since then.
It remembers all those who have died in conflict, regardless of religion or politics.
It is easy to glorify war. It is easy to vilify it.
It is not easy at 18 years old, or indeed at any age, to face – and then meet – a violent death, while trying to help others. Does this description apply to every soldier the world has ever known? Of course not. Does it apply to many? I believe so.
But even if it applied to the life of one person only, to one person who died to protect the freedoms that I now enjoy, I would want to remember them and to mourn their loss.
Poppy Day is not about glorifying war. It is not about victory. It is about loss.
Or at least it is to me.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com