About Me

My photo
London, United Kingdom
Holly Searle is a writer who was born in Westminster in the middle of London. She shares her birthday with Jarvis Cocker and David Seaman and like Jarvis Cocker she wears glasses but has nothing whatsoever in common with David Seaman. She is fascinated by words, people and their stories, and regularly spends hours fantasising about being offered a weekly column. She has a degree in Film and Television which she gained from Brunel University in 1997. She has been blessed with two quite remarkable children whom she adores. She enjoys the company of her friends and the circus that is life. Long Walk to Forever by Kurt Vonnegut is her favourite short story. She is the author of the published children's tale The Story of Balan Singh, and is currently working on her first book.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Wearing My Heart On My Lapel By Holly Searle








In remembrance of my Great Grandfather George Frederick Frost 1873 - 1937, who went to war and then came home. And for all of those that did not.


In 1920 it was decided the poppy should be adopted as the symbol to commemorate all of those that who had died as a result of war.

This adaptation is thought to derive from two sources; one, due to the fact that the poppy was the only flower that grew in the churned up battlegrounds that had once been innocent and unassuming fields in Ypres, Belgium prior to World War I. And two, due to John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields which he wrote on May 3 1915 after attending the funeral of his friend Lieutenant Alex Helmer, who had been killed a few days prior to the Second Battle of Ypres.



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.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


When I was a truculent youngster, I dismissed the wearing of a poppy as I felt that its very affectation only supported the unremitting and ugly acts of warfare that have blighted humanity, at an unforgiving cost. I do no support war, as the repercussions of its very being, just creates scars that cannot ever be healed for all of those that have ever been affected by its consequence and of the haunting echoes that its evil presence leaves behind.

My opinion changed however when I worked with the World War 1 soldier's documents at The National Archives in Kew. Whilst I still, and never will support any war, I began to examine the brutal and devastating loss of life that was attributed to its futility which in turn brought home to me the shocking reality of those that lost their lives and why wearing a poppy is so important.

It is quite beyond belief that there were over 37 million military and civilian deaths and casualties during World War 1. Over 16 million deaths and over 20 million casualties. It was one of the most deadly conflicts ever seen in our history.

And so with the knowledge of these heart-breaking statistics, I will always pin a poppy firmly to my lapel in the latter week of October every year and until the 11th of November has passed.

It is the very least I can do.

It is quite inconceivable to comprehend those numbers. Boys as young as 15 signed up and were lost forever. Men witnessed such horrors, that they returned home to their families, shells of their former selves devoid of all emotion and the capability to discuss it. Or after returning home from a tour of duty, they had deserted as a consequence of what they had witnessed and were shot simply because they could not cope.

And let's not forget those animals that were enlisted as well.

I remember quite clearly reading Kate Atkinson's first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum on a train journey and crying openly as I read a passage set in WW1, where Jack, a character who trains dogs for special military missions and who has grown so attached to one, that he is killed when he leaves his trench as he tries to rescue the poor wounded creature as it lays dying in no man's land.

Or those brave men who dug and spent hours in those claustrophobic tunnels that ran from their trench to their oppositions, with the precarious knowledge hanging over them like The Sword of Damocles that the tunnel may well collapse at any moment, burying them.

It is all too much to even imagine.

A few years ago, I decided that I would explain to my son why I wear a poppy. I also wanted him to be aware of the consequences of war and so I took him to Westminster on Remembrance Sunday. It was a cold harsh early November morning and as we climbed the stairs to exit the station entrance that lies adjacent to Big Ben, we were met with a sea of humanity.

Thousands of people lined the streets waiting for Big Ben to strike the eleventh hour. We found a space at one of the barriers and waited along with them. I had explained to him the procedure, that at 11 o'clock everyone would be still for two minutes to show their respect for all of those that had died as the result of conflict.

There was a sombre atmosphere as the minutes ticked away as we all headed towards the hour. Then as Big Ben began to sound out, I looked at my son and said “Take off your hat son.” And we stood together in silence with all of the thousands of other people there for the duration. I have never known London to be as quiet as it was on that November morning. And when the eleventh bell had sounded and we had heard the riffle salute that heralded the end of the two minutes silence, my son looked up at me and asked “Is it all right to speak now?” I smiled at him and ruffled his hair and them kissed him gently and told him yes it was.

We took a tour around Westminster and stopped to look at all the statues and wreaths of poppies that had been laid at their feet. We saw elderly servicemen emblazoned with their medals and the weary look of the remembrance that war had etched into their faces.

Then we returned home.

Those two minutes of silence are the most personal and yet intensely emotional I have ever collectively shared or spent with other people. The emotive pathos of it all, is almost beyond explanation but one I shall never forget, more so, because my son was there with me. And I hope he will always remember it and tell his children about it, because no one should ever forget such atrocities ever took place.

And for me, wearing a poppy has never been a jingoistic thing. It is a humanistic thing and my respect and very crippling personal and emotional response to all the life that has been lost and my reminder of that.

Wearing a poppy reminds me of just how lucky and fortunate I am, and of those who weren't as blessed.

Lest we forget.

Recently I went to view a function room for a forthcoming family event. It was part of a rugby clubhouse and on the wall there was a wooden plaque that listed all of the team captains that had ever played for the club. Between 1914 - 1918 there were none listed. I pointed it out to my son and asked him why there was a gap, to which he replied "Because of the war."


Job done.



The next summer the soil, fertilised by twenty thousand corpses, broke forth into millions of poppies.


No comments: