Yesterday was Remembrance Day. The significance of that day is observed around the world but in many cases, it is losing its “popularity”. The reason for that is obvious, but, at the same time, it is sad and disappointing. The reason for the dwindling popularity is because most nations have not participated in a war, or been affected significantly by a war in a very long time and remembering the fallen from long ago has faded. Fewer wars is a good thing but we say “sad and disappointing” because our world today is what it is, largely because of the sacrifices of those who served and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.
People of a certain age can recall when Remembrance Day was a big deal. It was to the point of embarrassment if you did not proudly wear and display your bright red poppy. Every school child wore the flower and understood its meaning. Church services were jam packed and remembrance events were well attended. There was no reason to explain what a Cenotaph was or where it was located. Those days are largely gone and few take the time to observe a moment of silence for the fallen.
We are not naive enough to believe that we can turn back the hands of time and have a nation become so aware that they politely salute the former servicemen and servicewomen that pass them in the street, but we do want to take a moment to use our voice to say thank you to them and all the men and women of the military who have fought for our freedoms around the world and especially for our bit of paradise.
Not many know of the history of the Caribbean’s contribution to the world wars so it was with pride that we read an article at BBC.com that gave a brief history and centred its reporting on Antigua and Barbuda’s ex-servicemen. As the article points out, it has been a century since the Great War ended and while the stories of the Europeans are well documented, the contributions of those from the Caribbean are largely unknown. To borrow a single descriptive word from Keith Eastmond, of the Ex-Servicemen’s Association, the nameless men and women of colour have been “airbrushed” from history. We should not allow that to happen.
As the world begins to forget the lessons of the past and politicians increasingly promote nationalistic policies and rhetoric, we cannot lose sight of the atrocities of war. It was the personal witness of those atrocities that caused Canadian physician, John McCrae to pen the poem, “In Flanders Fields” that is the foundation for the use of the poppy as the symbol of remembrance. McCrae wrote the poem on May 3, 1915, a day after witnessing the death of his friend, who was a fellow soldier. The poem, written from the point of view of the dead, talks of the poppies blowing between the rows of graves in Flanders field and implores the living to continue the fight and not forget their sacrifice.
Three years later, Moina Michael, a volunteer worker for the American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries organisation, drew inspiration from the poem and published a poem of her own called “We Shall Keep the Faith”. In tribute to McCrae’s poem, she vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance. She appeared at a November 1918 YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ conference, with a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed poppies to those attending. Her campaign to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance was successful and at a conference in 1920, the National American Legion adopted it as their official symbol of remembrance. The rest, as they say, is history. The poppy became an international symbol of remembrance for those that fell during World War I and has expanded as the symbol of remembrance for all those who have fallen during wars.
We invite you to visit the BBC’s website (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-46110120) and read about Antigua and Barbuda’s war heroes and those of the wider Caribbean. Their contributions to ensure that we live in a peaceful bit of paradise cannot be forgotten. It is incumbent upon our elders and our education system to remind those who have forgotten and enlighten those who do not know what Remembrance Day is all about.