Poppies in the past … Poppies in the future

(Tribune October 2005)

I wonder if my granddaughter will continue to wear a poppy.

I was a child in Ontario during World War Two. The stress of that war on local families and on our daily lives left impressions with me that have lasted a lifetime. Although our village was far from the action it was close to the consequences. My mother once showed me a remembrance plaque in one of the local churches with two of the names highlighted. "Those men", she pointed out to me, "were flyers who were lost." Those two flyers were not the only casualties from our area. Many of the returning servicemen were scarred both physically and emotionally. Most never spoke about their war experiences.

From this background, I developed a respect for our servicemen that has remained with me. I am a member of a fortunate generation that has not experienced the call to arms to protect our freedoms. I always wear a poppy during the early part of November leading up to and including Remembrance Day to show respect for those who courageously responded to their call.

I am Mackenzie’s paternal grandfather, her "Grandpa". Mack’s maternal grandfather, her "Opa", was German. "Opa" died last year but he did have a kind and loving relationship with his (our) granddaughter and I hope she will always retain fond memories of him. "Opa" had been a child in wartime Germany. The wartime events and influences he experienced were far different than those I experienced.

Mack is still a little girl, not yet seven, but in time she will begin to develop her personal thoughts and opinions. She may question the relevance of wearing the poppy. In Canada, we have traditionally worn a poppy to remind us of the sacrifices made by Canadians for the preservation of our freedoms. Such sacrifices were made by Canadian troops in many wars, but the war with Germany dominates my personal memories. As time passes, old hostilities are forgotten or become irrelevant. How can I encourage my granddaughter to continue to wear a poppy? How can she relate her life to a war that was fought when her grandparents were children and were on opposite sides?

I was recently reading a history of the Dieppe Raid and the following passage jumped out at me.

"Sgt./Pilot Morton Buckley’s aircraft (BS 187) was shot down. Buckley, who was from Fonthill, Ontario, didn’t survive the crash." (I)

I had unexpectedly found a reference to one of the names I saw on the wall of a local church nearly sixty years ago.

Rank… aircraft serial number… and sixteen words.

The initial report that Sgt./Pilot Buckley’s parents would have received in mid August 1942 would state that their son was missing in action. Confirmation of death would not come until later. I will not attempt to speculate about the grief experienced by parents in these circumstances but they likely would have believed their son deserved more than sixteen words in a history book. Many Canadians, including a large number from this part of Ontario, made the same sacrifice in that ill-fated Dieppe engagement. Most did not get any individual recognition; they are remembered officially as statistics only.

Sgt./Pilot Buckley was probably in his early twenties in 1942 and therefore he may have been born about 1920. We can assume that his mother was probably born about the turn of the 20th century.

My granddaughter was born one hundred years later, just before the turn of the 21st century. One hundred years after the birth of many little girls who grew up and became mothers of servicemen. One hundred years after the birth of the little girls who became the Mrs. Buckleys and who lost sons in that war.

If Mack can be encouraged to look back one century, she will find a parallel universe populated by little girls who were just like her. She will grow as they grew; they had children and she will probably do the same. One hundred years after Dieppe, she might also have a son in his early twenties. If my granddaughter can learn to relate her life to the lives of women 100 years her senior, she might recognize the wearing of a poppy as a way to honour the memory of those once-little girls and the sacrifices made by them.

I do not want my granddaughter to raise a child who will be lost and become "sixteen words" in some future history book. Unfortunately, we know wars are inevitable. We know mothers will continue to lose those children who are brave enough to answer the call to defend the rest of us.

I hope that I can help my granddaughter to understand the importance of wearing a poppy. I do not want her to ever forget the continuing price of her freedom.

(i) Don R. Morrison, "Spitfire – The Canadians", Robert Bracken

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