Maybe it's time for a green poppy instead
It has been hard to avoid the Remembrance Day commemorations over the weekend. Turning on the BBC to hear music to accompany a long journey was an exercise in channel hopping in the hope of finding at least one station without some old worthy excavated from the catacombs of 'auntie' to solemnly intone the debt owed by generations to those who fell on Flanders Field, Paschendale, Ypres, Galipoli, The Western Front or similar.
Other stations were half-embarrassed into providing some kind of poppy day commemoration, not sure if its audience was interested or in the least knowledgeable about the significance of the day.
Even that arch cynic Ian Hislop got in on the act and in 'My Boy Jack' we were treated, if that is the word, to a reinactment of the relationship between Rudyard Kipling and his son – Kipling pulled strings to get his son to the front despite him being medically unfit, and his son was killed on his first day in action.
I have no problem with people commemorating the huge sacrifice made by those who fought in World War 1 and 2, living in appalling conditions, being viewed in many cases as little more than canon fodder by the generals who supposedly had worked out an advance strategy – lions led by lambs, as it was later termed. And the recent decision to open the gates of the cenotaph to allow general public confirmation of what many families had already known – that many, many Catholics signed up for the First World War, albeit to establish the right of autonomy of small nations including Ireland. The move is to be welcomed.
Similarly those who fought to overthrow the evil of Hitler's Germany did their duty with the idea of creating a better world for all, and no one can deny that the Second World War sparked a change in society which is still felt today – from the women's movement to trade unions and the idea of charitable intervention in times of need.
All of this being more or less true, then why do nationalists find it so difficult to wear the poppy? Simply because it is not just about the two world wars. In truth, the money gathered from the sale of this humble flower or its artificial facisimile is not just to commemorate the dead of those two world wars but also for those soldiers who wrecked murder on the streets of Northern Ireland.
The Royal Bishop Legion poppy appeal is there also to support the Paras who swaggered onto the streets of the Bogside in 1972 to murder and main, leaving a legacy which may never be laid to rest. Similarly, so-called 'legitimate' regiments in Northern Ireland - now acknowledged to have been in fact the forces of loyalist paramilitaries - are still part of the 'glorious fallen' according to the poppy wearers.
I have ready Paddy McGill's account of his time as a stretcher bearer in the First World War and it is harrowing in its stark simplicity. I can find nothing comparable in the ignoble activities of pseudo-soldiers on the streets, more likely alleys, and waste ground of Northern Ireland.
Offer me a green poppy if you must to honour those fallen in two horrendous world wars but do not ask me to put a crimson emblem in my lapel for the murderers who hid behind a khaki uniform and talked of 'doing their duty'.
As you are obviously reading this – congratulations. Unlike many of our children, you understand the relationships between distinct letters and vowels and the ideas and concepts which they represent.
Actually you shouldn't be congratulated. You, like me, probably don't remember being taught how to read. It just happened as part of being at school. Every day we sat down, took out our books and copied from the board or from our 'reader'. I don't remember when the words on the page began to be translated into words in my head but I do remember the frustration I felt at not being able to read, and the eagerness I had to learn.
It was a small school, not very progressive, where the teachers believed in drilling us with sums, spellings and copying out. Every day we sat and learned by rote how to spell, write, add and subtract. It may not have been a very sophisticated system but boy did it work.
Looking back I can pick out classmates and schoolmates who were clearly dyslexic or who had other special needs. Some just weren't very bright but by the end of our time at national school in Donegal every one of us could read, write, add and subtract.
I've found myself becoming very right-wing over the past while as I watched a nightly programme on the apparent inability of so many children to learn the basic skill of reading. It is surely an integral part of teaching that all children learn to make sense of the words on the pages of the books in front of them – otherwise other learning is well nigh impossible.
I hated it but I do remember a fair part of my geography course because every night our teacher insisted we read about 10 pages of our textbook in preparation for her next class.
I have a very strong memory as a child, of sitting on my father's knee as he read to me from the cathecism in preparation for my First Holy Communiion. He hadn't had the opportunity of spending much time at school and English was not his first language, but he was an excellent reader. It had been drilled into him – by my grandmother, my mother's mother who, as it happened was a teacher – and he would break down every word into its component parts before giving a perfect pronunciation.
He was at school in the early 1900s – a century later don't our children deserve better?
Suzanne Rodgers is a journalist and lecturer at the North West Regional College
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Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 12 C
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