• Michelle Partington

Take up our quarrel with the foe…

The poppy….a brooch which hangs on the left side of my jacket currently. A red piece of paper shaped as a poppy with a plastic green stem hangs on many a person’s garment. Images of poppies displayed on everyone’s Facebook profile pictures including mine, military, veterens, families of and the general public placing coins in a pot in exchange for this symbol of…..the poppy worn by different people for different reasons, in memory of the sacrifices of past wars.

So why is the poppy so significant and internationally recognised as a symbol of remembrance? In the early 19th Century bare land was covered in red poppies growing around the fallen bodies from the destruction caused during the Napoleon wars. During WW1 Northern France became are following battle. The poppy grew and spread across Flanders. This is were the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ was borne. The poppy symbolised the sacrifices made by the soldiers of WW1 and all conflicts following this. The poppy is also a symbol in supporting those who have returned from war sufferring from physical and mental injuries.

The poppy grows well in barron land and it’s seeds are carried in the wind. They can grow anywhere, mainly seen between May and August (in normal climate)!! I walk Mitsy and then I see a random poppy on its own. I am immediately taken back to all the poppies I saw in Afghanistan. The main ones I saw where dried up and during the clearing up of the helicopter after dropping off a casualty random poppies were found which had quite clearly been dragged in on casualties kit. I remember one of the doctors wanting a poppy from the ground and I was asked to pick her one when I was on the ground. We kept a couple in the crewroom which we had written on.

The Royal British Legion has been selling poppies for years and I never even thought about any other significance for the poppy other than a positive symbol of remembrance. Apart from respecting the fallen it did not hold much more significance to me. I have to be truthful an say I never became emotional because I had no personal connection to anyone involved. I used to do the parades with the RAF and also with The Legion in Allenton Derby with family and close frienss. my personal recognition of remembrance was following my 2nd tour of Afghan when I saw so much death and destruction. During the Remembrance Service at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011 I saw a face which knocked me for six!! I saw the face of a hero who’s life I tried to save. This brought a new meaning to remembrance day. I cried and cried until the tears finally dried up. This reaction was because I had seen the wounded and killed in action from a terrible war and I could finally relate to the act of remembrance.

However, I started to wonder about the significance of the poppy to me. This beautiful red flower growing beneath such death and destruction in Flanders Fields. What I hadnt considered was the negative and evil that could be done with such a lovely flower. Such death and dustruction but this time it caused by the poppy plant…

For years, and im talking 5500 BC, the poppy has been used for its opium ‘euphoric’ delights!! In the 1600’s an englishman introduces opium to cure ailments and it’s still the main ingredient for certain cough medicines. Nearly every country was involved in trading and pushing opium and interestingly France played a big part in this. The first recorded primo production of poppy/opium growth in Afghanistan was 1932 and by 1995 it accounted for 52% of global production. By 1999 79% of opium production came from Afghanistan until 2000 when a Taliban leader bans poppy cultivation, taking away the farmers livelihood. In 2001 the war commences and the Pakistan market is full of opium. Once the Taliban was overthrown farmers commenced the growing of poppies again. The US offered monetary compensation to the farmers if they stopped growing poppies but this didn’t have the desired effect and opium (heroin) is still produced in great amounts in Afghanistan. The place that took my former self…

I will still wear the poppy out of respect, and I will always see the hero’s face staring back at me, his name echoing around my brain. It will never stop the negative feelings I hold for the poppy in Afghanistan now – bitter sweet memories. As I write my blog tonight my TV is up high trying to hide the noise of yet another night of fireworks…

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.

Take up our quarrel with the foe 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!

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

By Lt Col John McCrae


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