Who Dies if England Live?

The Vimy Ridge memorial, Northern France

This all started with Robert Fisk’s article for the Independent a month ago, so is belated, but has been at the back of my mind ever since:

Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapel know that they mock the war dead?

Fisk is clearly being provocative, but makes some important points, namely, that a poppy is not a fashion symbol, but carries a great deal of meaning and significance in human history.

Cox's who fell at Vimy Ridge

However, having been living in France for several months now, I have begun to realise the worth of physical memorials. Without a visual reminder of what has passed, it is all too easy to forget. And I was grateful for the reminder from ‘all the boys and girls of BBC World wearing their little poppies’ that it was that time of the year again to pause, reflect and be thankful for the sacrifice of others.

Of course, we can never understand the sacrifice itself, as we were never there in the trenches. And of course, we do not deserve to wear the poppy, as if to pretend we stand with the fallen, never having chosen to put our bodies on the line.

Who dies if England lives?

However, we owe it to the glorious dead to keep the memory of their sacrifice alive, and wearing a poppy is one of many ways in which we can do that. A nation which chooses corporately to wear a poppy, is one that is unconsciously united, and I am grateful for the little red reminder that I saw on the BBC in the days leading up to Armistice Day.

It helped me to remember.

No easy hope or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will, and soul.
There is but one task for all—
One life for each to give.
What stands if Freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?

Rudyard Kipling, ‘For All We Have and Are’, Stanza 4

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