It is customary in my country, on Remembrance Day, to wear a red poppy to commemorate the fallen in war, with donations channeled to dependants and veterans. To observe remembrance is a mark of respect. For many, it is also an expression of gratitude.

Some people, however, decline to observe the tradition, on principle. They may believe that war should be lamented, not tacitly condoned. Some will stress that not only on active service are people killed or harmed in wars. Many children, women and men are innocent victims of the combatants commemorated with poppies. Celebrating the poppy could look like acquiescing in a deceptive idea of war as a noble activity allegedly in service of a free and democratic society.


As for poppy revenues to support the survivors, surely anyone who sacrifices life, limb, or family provider, for the sake of their country, is owed much more than a token donation once a year.

Although I choose not to wear a poppy for a cluster of reasons like those, I would not criticise others who do wear one, or try to persuade them not to. What does seem to me a fitting response to Remembrance Day is to seek to widen our horizons and to remember so much more.

Yet the scale and depth of the horrors of war being perpetrated around the world, and in so many places – relentlessly continuing even in the very moment you read and I write this – defy human imagination. Each and every one of the inumerable lives lost is of a person like you or me, or any of our loved ones.

In the moments of quiet reflection, as symbolised by our two minutes collective silence each year, each of us will be drawn into our own more personal remembrance.

My twentieth century forbears who suffered and died for the cause of war are remembered now as relatively distant victims of that evil racket.  I feel today more keenly the pain of those whose loved ones were so lately ripped from them.

For they shall grow not old as we that are left grow old.


Age shall not weary them.


Nor the years condemn…


And in remembering them, is there proud thanksgiving? Those of us whose regimes support the bringers of death – the firers of mortars, the assassins, the terrorists – we have no grounds for pride. The humanity in us would have us bow our heads before the families of those cruelly taken, as we honour their right to be proud and thankful for the loved ones they now must mourn.

Commemorated in the photographs

Noor and her baby boy Riad were sister and nephew of Ghoufran Derawan, a teacher and journalist living in Damascus. They were killed when a Damascus restaurant was struck by a terrorist mortar. On the morning that I contacted Ghoufran for permission to post the picture, a terrorist mortar exploded outside her house. Some streets away, another mortar had just struck yet another restaurant, with lethal effects. Why do killers that our nations support with money, arms and training target restaurants and residential areas?

Serena Shim, the journalist, reported for Press TV on the smuggling of Western arms from Turkey to Syrian terrorists. Shortly afterwards, she died in unexplained circumstances. Can any bearers of arms, even in legitimate forces, claim greater courage than is shown by those rare few who seek and expose the truth, even in the face of lethal threats?

Abdullah Issa, a twelve-year old boy, was beheaded by the men in the photograph moments after it was taken. Those men are supported by NATO and Gulf states as ‘moderate rebels’. How did we come to have people like this as our allies?

Remembering those who remain

The custom is to observe two minutes silence in remembrance of those lost to the world. Let us also remember those who survive. Here is a message that has lived in my heart ever since hearing this boy from Aleppo, speaking after its liberation from the control of the terrorists. He is telling the rest of the world what he would wish for us:


Thanks go to Ghoufran Derawan, Carla Ortiz and all those in Syria, and their friends beyond, who have held firm to the inestimable value of human life.


This entry was posted in journalism, remembrance, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Remembrance

  1. timhayward says:

    Because the question of remembrance as symbolised by the poppy is one on which people of good will have different perspectives, I include here one that was shared with me by someone whose view I respect:
    “If I may say so, your article is sensitively written and puts forward a valid point of view. I come to the matter from a difference direction. For me, having served for 25 years in the army, the poppy is not about celebrating or condoning war. I am, and have been for many years, against the idea of wars of adventure. I believe firmly in the principles of sovereignty and the Charter of the United Nations – it is not perfect, but it is the best we have and reflects the world’s reluctance to engage in more war, unless it is approved by the Security Council (9 votes out of 15, with no veto). So, for me, the poppy is about the valuable sacrifices our forefathers made to prevent the spread of a great evil during the last war; it is about remembrance for all of those we lost in military campaigns and is far removed from any notion of celebrating war. In my case, it is also about remembering school friends who died as young men, and those, more recently, who received life-changing injuries. It is about remembering the pointlessness of many recent wars of intervention that have had absolutely nothing to do with our national survival, but have resulted from over-blown egos of those who took us to war. Using lies and propaganda to manufacture a moral imperative. I remember family and friends of other nationalities who lost their loved ones, too. I do agree that those who sacrifice “life, limb, or family provider, for the sake of their country, are owed much more than a token donation once a year”. Our government is supposed to have in place a “Military Covenant”. Sadly, when one compares the way servicemen and veterans are treated in other countries, especially the US, this document is a lame, political, gesture which lacks any serious commitment. So, income from the poppy serves a good purpose here. too. Small though those the revenues are from poppy sales, they are better than not having them and do support a worthy cause, in my view, helping those who are injured or families of bereaved. I have met many who receive support from the Royal British Legion, which does a grand job in so many ways. The case examples you give are truly sad stories. But the decisions to fund these evil organisations responsible are taken at the political level. Journalists have indeed suffered greatly, with so many being killed and injured – some in a most barbaric and cruel way. Many are still held captive. It would be fitting for their friends and family to remember them, not just on this day of remembrance, but especially then. I will be also remembering the people of Syria and Yemen. Carla’s film truly portrays the nobility of even the young. I have the deepest respect. Remembering the young helps me strive to ensure that, for my own young family members, they are not placed in peril just because some politician wants to make a name for himself. For me, the poppy signifies all of that.”

  2. Loverat says:

    A reminder that mainstream news will sometimes publish letters if they are pitched in a way which looks at the bigger picture: Please note that the Evening Standard selected the title ‘Blood on UK Hands’ – not me.

    The second letter on Syria, I’ve had published in a few months.

    Keep writing those letters folks:

    Blood on UK hands in the Middle East

    Few rational people would disagree with David Lindsay [Letters, November 9] over our role in the Saudi destruction in Yemen. But to understand UK foreign policy you need to examine the history of intervention and the continuing chaos in the Middle East.

    We all know too well the pretext the UK used to invade Iraq. In Libya, the narrative was “Arab Spring” and “human rights”.

    In Syria, similar messages were used and al Qaeda-linked militants armed by us were rebranded as “moderates”. And regarding Saudi Arabia, we support a state driven by religious ideology and regional domination.

    Any sensible and open-minded person reflecting on all this would seriously wonder where the principles of democracy, human rights and freedom fit into our apparent willingness to contribute to promoting religious-inspired conflict abroad?
    Kevin Smith

  3. Steve Finney says:

    It is good I think that there should be an annual reminder of the sacrifice made by servicemen & although I do not wear the poppy ( mainly because I do not get around much anymore ), I do not see any harm in it whichever colour, although some people appear to be running a war of the poppies in terms of which one is chosen.

    I like & appreciate your memorial Tim, & perhaps as since WW2 the majority of casualties has been civilians, in our time honoured killing sprees – having a day in which we recall their involuntary loss would I believe be a good thing. I imagine this would not go down well in some circles & I hear that the dead from the Iraq debacle is in the process of being sadly upgraded.

    Personally I would believe more in the sincerity of those who sit at the top tables as they stand before the ” Unknown Soldier “, if they seriously made an attempt to care for the veteran known soldiers, who according to the last article I read on the subject – of their number, around 15,000 are living on the street.

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