The first poppy opened in the garden this morning. They’ve looked fit to burst for a week or so now; it’s just been a matter of watching & waiting for the first blast of glorious colour. I adore poppies: they always seem so tenacious, so ‘look at me’, with their huge floppy petals & bright red and black combo. Yet their aesthetic joyousness is always tinged with the meanings of rememberance; at the same time as they declare their own existence so proudly, they symbolise the deaths of so, so many others.
It struck me as poignant that this first poppy – the flower of rememberance – should open today, the 70th anniversary of the Dunkerque evacuations. Like the poppy, Dunkerque can be read in so many ways: a military disaster that saw the death & imprisonment of many young men; emblematic of national spirit & solidarity; triumph over adversity – like life itself.
The radio was reporting on the ‘little ship’ commemorations taking place today, asking listeners to recall their family stories related to Dunkerque. I thought of my great uncle Ron. He lied about his age so he could join the army in 1939, aged just 14. He became trapped at Dunkerque & spent 3 weeks being sheltered by strangers in a cellar, before being rescued at brought back to Britain. He also served in ops in Norway & on D-Day. I cannot begin to imagine how these experiences must have affected such a young man, & I struggle to reconcile these events with my memories of a jovial & flirtatious old man whom everyone (but especially the ladies!) adored. He died last year, aged 85, and was – aptly enough – buried on the 11/11, at 11am.
When I started writing, I didn’t know what order to put the above thoughts in, or really where to start: poppy, rememberance, Ron, Dunkerque. Really they could have gone in any order. These thoughts, memories & feelings aren’t a sequence but a circuit; there is no start or end, only a loop, a continuous circle linking them together. Like our lives: they are always part of circuit, linked and connected and emeshed with others. Our lives are never simply our own.