Fringe Box



Opinion: Do You Wear A Poppy?

Published on: 4 Nov, 2013
Updated on: 4 Nov, 2013

A personal view of Poppy Day by Martin Giles, publisher of The Guildford Dragon NEWS (this article was first published in November 2012)

Do You Wear A Poppy?

When I was a young school boy it was simple. The Second World War had ended less than twenty years earlier. Many of our fathers had fought. The cost of freedom was fresh in the nation’s psyche. It did not need to be explained. Nor did the importance of wearing a poppy.

As the years went by, images of the Great War seemed to be those most often associated with Poppy Day. Perhaps because the cause was regarded as less certain, the conditions more terrible, the sacrifice more concentrated*.

For me it became more personal in early 1980s when I was a soldier in the local Queen’s Regiment** in Northern Ireland. I can remember, when my battalion formed up on the square in Colchester, ready to embark on a two year tour of Londonderry, thinking that it was likely one or two of us would not come back.

I took comfort in the fact that even in an infantry battalion, many do not go regularly on patrol.  I thought, very wrongly as it turned out, that having done my bit on earlier tours I would have a less risky existence in Headquarters Company.

Anyway, we lost two young private soldiers: Privates Alan Stock and Neil Clarke. I can still recall their faces although I did not know them very well as I had not served in the same company as them. One of the losses, that of Pte. Clarke, sticks in my mind particularly.

Part of my job was to attend the scenes of all incidents. After the ‘contact’ (the rather euphemistic military term for an enemy engagement) I got up to Bishop Street Without quickly, arriving only a short while after the incident. It was a typical Londonderry autumn evening; dark and drizzly.

The soldiers at the scene were angry and frustrated. They knew that their comrade had been seriously wounded but in that dirty little conflict there were few ways of hitting back at the normally invisible enemy. The streets were deserted, locals knowing it was not a good time to taunt us with their ‘success’. They would save that for later.

A call came over the radio to say that the soldier had been declared dead on arrival at the hospital. He was 20.  I don’t suppose he had strong feelings about Northern Ireland but like most of us he believed we were doing the right thing by standing up to terrorists. I really hope he did believe that because he gave his life doing it and I still strongly believe it was true.

But the war casualty I knew best was not a soldier but a policeman, John Bennison. Part of my job was to liaise between the army and the police. Partly perhaps because he was an Englishman in the RUC he became not only a useful contact but a friend.

Some months after I had completed the tour and returned home to my newly bought flat in Guildford I turned on the news to see his face on the screen and his death reported. I had told him during one particular incident, when we found ourselves standing right over a prepared IED, that he was too impatient in dealing with them. Obviously, he had not listened. He had tried to move a briefcase by the side of the victim of an IRA shooting, but the body had been booby trapped. I remember he left a wife and a young daughter.

Yes, I remember these things, and I always will, with sadness but with some pride too because we did feel it our duty to protect our country and our countrymen, in a disciplined way, at a time when military service was less popular and less respected.

Remembering is still important. Not just for those of us who have taken part in conflicts, we will probably remember anyway, but for all of us. This is not a perfect world or a perfect country but we have many things to be thankful for: the sacrifice of those who have defended our freedoms is one.

So please wear a poppy and please remember it does not mean you think war is a good thing or glorious. Who can sensibly think that? It is just a way for us all alive today to show respect and say thank you, to show we care and that we realise freedom has a price.

Later this week we will be asking a range of Guildford people, including our MP, Anne Milton, what Remembrance Sunday means to them. Please watch for the article.

*Guildford town alone lost 440 of its younger men out of a total population of around 20,000 which might not seem very high until one realises that there were probably only about 3,000 males, at the time, in the age range 18-28.

** Now, since amalgamation with The Hampshires renamed ‘The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment’

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Responses to Opinion: Do You Wear A Poppy?

  1. Sean Jenkinson Reply

    November 5, 2013 at 7:31 am

    I always wear a poppy and always will. I will always be grateful to the fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers grandfathers, grandmothers, sons and daughters that served and are serving in the armed forces.

    What does upset me is knowing that there are many young people that don’t even know why we wear the poppy.

    Also when you see celebrities wearing designer poppies that cost £50 to £100 but only a small percentage of that goes to the poppy appeal. I saw one that was £45 and only £8 of that went to the poppy appeal, so yet another good cause used by companies to make money.

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