Earlier this year, at the Headingley Festival of Ideas, I attended a discussion between the Peace Pledge Union, and others who thought achieving peace might be an ideal to strive for, but however considering war was at times necessary to eradicate a greater evil.
Members of the Peace Pledge Union choose to wear a white poppy on Remembrance occasions. At times this choice to wear a white poppy alongside, or instead of the more traditional red poppy frequently means they face the ire of the mainstream.
The money raised from the the sale of red poppies goes toward helping injured soldiers or the bereaved families of soldiers killed in hostilities. Although pacifists might not have any objection to that, their symbolic wearing of a white poppy reflects their moral concern and desire to seek alternatives to war in the pursuance of peace.
This weekend and today has seen many observations of the centenary of the start of World War I. Although I have committed to attend such an event with someone, I fear what conflicting emotion it might unleash for me. The discussion at Festival of ideas had already left me feeling out of my comfort zone. I’d been brought up by one parent not to engage in these kind of debates.
My parents were part of the second World War effort, my maternal grandfather was gassed in the trenches of World War 1. although he did return alive from the war he was never able to do a full time job again. Prior to the war Granddad had been a master carpenter, upon his return he was not well enough for that. Claiming means tested benefits in those days was one humiliation he and other proud folk would not do.
Granddad later aligned himself with pacifists ideals on religious grounds as did my mum, choosing never to wear either a red or white poppy on remembrance occasions. Mum had been in the Women’s Land Army during the war, doing the farm jobs normally done by the men who had gone to war, while there she became friends with conscientious objectors who also were set to land labor if not imprisoned.
Prisoners of war were also put to work in this way, inevitably fraternization with the ‘enemy’ was common. I was nearly half Italian, Mum always described those days as the happiest of her life, she was 20 and remained life long friends with her fellow land army girls, and me in turn with their children….. but not with the Italian!
During world War 1 some objectors were tied to canons as punishment, deserters were frequently shot….very emotive issues. and ones on which I’d dislike to deliberate appropriate ‘punishment’, thankfully times and attitudes change.
What becomes apparent during war time is that apart from its immediate affects, with its casualties and atrocities, there will long remain the emotional and mental scars which are not only inflicted on soldiers but on their families.
I have little doubt that the world at war since 1914 was a major factor in my family’s often times poor emotional and mental responses. I know very little about the biochemical explanations for mental illness but intrinsically I find them an inadequate explanation, they don’t ring true to my experience or to those of other people of my acquaintance so labelled.