White Feathers And Red Poppies
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I walked around Sherway Gardens shopping mall last Saturday. It seemed to me that every twenty feet we had a veteran with a tray of felt poppies.
I felt bad for several reasons, not the least of which was the number of times I’ve bought a poppy only to lose it by virtue of its being detached from my lapel, or the pin disengaging from the flower.
My main feeling stems from this being an annual drive that kicks off about two weeks before Remembrance Day, November 11th. On that day, in major cities of the western world, traffic grinds to a halt, and all falls silent for two minutes as we remember The Fallen. I know I do.
I remember The Fallen every day of the year. One of my pastimes is reading about the origins of the Third Balkan war, which degenerated two days after it started into World War One.
When I moved apartments a year ago, I purchased 22 (“twenty-two”!) bookcases in part to hold my growing collection of books on the origins of The Great War. I borrow about two books a week on The Great War from the Toronto Public Library system. I feel confident in saying that there’s not a day goes by but I’ve read part of a book about World War One.
The Great War is always on my mind. Daily. Especially The Fallen. But please see “Preface (Somme page xix)” in Factoids .
So I walked around the mall feeling guilty because I wasn’t wearing the poppy I bought yesterday, which is on my other jacket. Why not buy a second poppy, one for each jacket? How can I compare a dollar coin with some family’s member’s life?
But I read too about the White Feathers (“cowardice”) that were handed out to men in civilian clothes, sometimes to long-term serving officers home on civil leave for two weeks before returning to the front. Women embarrassed young men by presenting them with a white feather, in the hopes of shaming the men into signing up and going off to be killed.
Which is how I feel as I skulk around the mall.
Perhaps more than any other non-veteran in the mall that day, I know more of and feel more deeply for the young men of ninety years ago. I have a couple of shelves of books of personal accounts, diaries, of privates, not generals.
Today I have a clearer idea of what they felt when they saw women bearing down on them with white feathers.
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