Belfast Telegraph

Reminding ourselves why we recognise our war dead

By Alf McCreary

At the end of this period of Remembrance it is time to take stock of a memorable week of religious and other commemoration ceremonies on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The remarkable display of ceramic poppies outside the Tower of London, now gone, captured the mood of the nation.

The Royal British Legion's Remembrance Service at the Royal Albert Hall a week ago was also especially poignant, as it included a young German speaking in his native tongue, and representatives of those who died in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Remembrance Day Service of worship at the Belfast Cenotaph last Sunday was conducted with dignity, and there was an impressive turn-out of people across the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland for the Act of Remembrance on November 11.

There were also many private commemorations, and in my home I laid a poppy on the medals of my grandfather Tommy McCreary who was at the Somme. I also remembered my Uncle Dave who fought against the Japanese in Burma. Inevitably, the public commemorations could not convey the suffering of war but all of this is savagely and yet beautifully described by the former German soldier Erich Maria Remarque in his classic novel All Quiet On The Western Front.

I am re-reading the book this very week, and I recommend it as one of the greatest-ever condemnations of war, and a remarkable piece of English literature which was translated from the 1929 version, first written in German.

This week it was also encouraging to note that representatives of the Irish Governments laid laurel wreaths in London, Belfast, Enniskillen and elsewhere, thus underlining the improving relations between the two peoples.

Sadly, however, the wearing (or non-wearing) of a poppy continues to cause comment, and it is a pity that it is still used, like the Irish language, as a political football.

Much attention was given to young Londonderry-born footballer James McClean who declined to wear a poppy. In a considered statement to the chairman of Wigan Athletic Football Club, his employers, he said that he would support the Royal British Legion's poppy appeal if it was solely for those who fought and died in the two world wars.

He said, however, that the Army's role in the Troubles, and particularly on Bloody Sunday in Derry, meant that for him to wear a poppy would be seen " as a mark of disrespect to my people".

Mr McClean is perfectly entitled to his very well-expressed comments, but he may also reflect that it was partly the sacrifice of those who took part in the two world wars that has guaranteed the freedom of expression which he now enjoys, and that the current and very serious conflicts in the Middle East may eventually determine our continued freedom of worship.

The main point, however, is to remind ourselves of the sacrifice and horror of war, where truth is usually the first casualty.

Whether or not you wore a poppy this week, or watched people laying a poppy or laurel wreath, or whether you simply paused for a moment's silence, you were implicitly recognising the frailty of people on all sides, and also reminding yourself that there must be better ways of resolving human conflicts.

That is the true significance of Remembrance.

James McClean poppy decision thoughtful, respectful and dignified, says Sinn Fein's McGuinness 

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