Remember In Your Own Way

1 ‘Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.
2 So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win human admiration. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward.
3 But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing;
4 your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
5 ‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward.
6 But when you pray, go to your private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
7 ‘In your prayers do not babble as the gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.
8 Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

– The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6

Every 23rd of August, I commemorate the death of William Wallace. Sometimes it’s something public, be it a simple post on social media, or an article. Others, I simply take a moment to reflect, read a section of The Scottish Chiefs, or one of David Ross’s books. I have a broad enough sense of humour to laugh and make jokes about Wallace, but not on that day, and not about his death. I don’t expect all Scottish nationalists, independence supporters, republicans, or whatever mast of the ship with which you align, to do this; nor do I think it should be mandatory. Freedom includes the freedom not to observe or commemorate anniversaries: I’m only interested in how I mark the occasion.

Similarly, I do commemorate the deaths of all those who lost their lives in war – all deaths, be they soldiers or civilians, human or animal, in the immediate carnage of battle or in the aftermath of sarvation and disease and ruin. But I do not wear a poppy; I do not watch the Cenotaph processions; I do not listen to politicians and civic leaders and celebrities pontificate. I remember in my own way.

If you wish to make your memorial public, ostentatious, grand and pompous, then that’s your prerogative – just don’t expect me to congratulate you for it. If you wish to cover your car in poppies and tattoo “Lest We Forget” to your forearm, go right ahead – just do not presume to think yourself superior to those who do not. If you wish to speak in solemn, grave tones about sacrifice and reconciliation between singing jingoistic anthems and firing cannon, then you’re welcome to it – just don’t dare accuse those who do not of displaying insufficient respect, sympathy, or patriotism.

I think of those who died in war other days and months of the year. I think of those who’ve lost their lives decades after “Never Again.” I think of all those lives ruined and neglected after “We Will Remember Them.” I think of those who will die tomorrow, and next year, and next century, because the people who rule and control our lives have not changed since the time Matthew wrote his Gospel. They are still hypocrites who love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them.

Remember how you will – as long as you remember.

Sixteen years old when I went to the war,
To fight for a land fit for heroes,
God on my side, and a gun in my hand,
Chasing my days down to zero,
And I marched and I fought and I bled and I died,
And I never did get any older,
But I knew at the time that a year in the line,
Was a long enough life for a soldier,

We all volunteered, and we wrote down our names,
And we added two years to our ages,
Eager for life and ahead of the game,
Ready for history’s pages,
And we brawled and we fought and we whored ’til we stood,
Ten thousand shoulder to shoulder,
A thirst for the Hun, we were food for the gun,
And that’s what you are when you’re soldiers,

I heard my friend cry, and he sank to his knees,
Coughing blood as he screamed for his mother,
And I fell by his side, and that’s how we died,
Clinging like kids to each other,
And I lay in the mud and the guts and the blood,
And I wept as his body grew colder,
And I called for my mother and she never came,
Though it wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t to blame,
The day not half over and ten thousand slain,
And now there’s nobody remembers our names
And that’s how it is for a soldier

7 thoughts on “Remember In Your Own Way

  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Hear! Hear!

    My father served during almost the entire Second World War. He was at El Alamein. He received a relatively minor wound from shrapnel. He was proud to be a soldier in the Royal Artillery (and a communist). He saw people killed and maimed. However, he refused to wear a poppy or to send for his campaign medals. He saw them as ‘badges of killing’.

    He felt he did the right thing during the war. He was proud of his colleagues. He grieved for them, but the ostentatious ceremony left him cold. He would have no part of it.

  2. Ealasaid says:

    My grandfather, the Papa I never knew died 100 years ago on the 7th November. Some of my cousins managed to visit his grave in France at various times this year, one on the anniversary. Each one has spoken of how moved they felt as they stood by the grave. We will remember.

    I remember as a child standing in church during the 2 minutes silence and seeing all these adults that I knew standing there with tears flowing down their cheeks as they remembered family and friends that were lost. They told me I must remember so that it can never happen again.

    I will remember.

    But I will not wear the poppy and join in the festivals of celebration of war, disguised as remembrance. That was not asked of me.

  3. Marconatrix says:

    Mata, VI 34 … Is leòir do’n là ‘olc féin.

  4. Hugh Wallace says:

    My views mirror yours exactly. I’ve marched in Glasgow to the Cenotaph when I served in the army, and I was proud to do so, but I no longer attend such events. But I remember the lost every time I pass a memorial in some small highland village or suburb of a town or city anywhere in Scotland. I often stop to read the names and imagine the impact the loss of so many men, clearly related to one another, had on their communities. The second Highland Clearances was WWI and the country still bears the mark of their loss.

    But that first photo above; the cascading poppies above the tanks. My first impression of that was, ‘that looks like exploding people, blood and lumps of flesh spraying everywhere’. Somehow I don’t think that was the impression those who designed the spectacle were intending but I think it is very apt. Perhaps blood splattered cenotaphs and parades are what we need to ensure people really remember what it is we don’t want to repeat…

  5. Jimmock says:

    I am an ex-serviceman but like many others do not take part in or watch the celebrations of our armed forces so beloved of our political class. If I could find one, I would wear a white poppy in memory of all who have died as a result of war.

  6. […] have weird ideas about peace and pacifism: that it’s apathetic and immoral at best, and cowardly and traitorous at worst. To paraphrase Orwell: in a time of universal conflict, peace is a […]

  7. […] Regular readers will be aware that I’m involved in several peace organisations. You’d be amazed at how angry some people get when I talk about wanting peaceful solutions to Protestant-Catholic sectarianism, Chinese-Japanese xenophobia, and Israeli-Palestinian violence, to say nothing of nuclear disarmament and pacifism. For some reason, peace seems be controversial. […]

What're your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.