For me, the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day follow a familiar pattern. I buy a poppy, or increasingly a small badge, as soon as I see they are on sale, and then I forget to wear it pretty well all the time. Next, I have do decide whether I should be putting a pin through whichever coat I am wearing. Given what we are commemorating, these are minor distractions. I’m glad I wore it this morning.
There, in Sainsbury’s, were two senior gentlemen selling poppies. Both were immaculately dressed and wore their medals with pride, as they should. One gentleman was clearly a navy veteran and immediately it got personal. Aged 15, my father, Anthony Johansen, had served on the Liberty ships bringing supplies to hungry and desperate Britons, dodging the U boats in the North Atlantic ocean. A boy, not a man, had risked his life for his country. Many others gave their lives for the freedom we hold dear today. It is a sobering thought.
These elderly men probably have many stories to tell, stories of bravery, stories of lost comrades, stories of scenes no man or woman would ever want to witness. Heroes every one.
I am not one for organised Remembrance events. I remember my own way, in private, deep in my thoughts, forever grateful to everyone who gave their lives so we might be free. Increasingly, I do not want to stand behind so called dignitaries, here today gone tomorrow politicians, or religious ‘leaders’, few of whom have anything meaningful to say to me. The Archbishops and current party leaders do not represent me. To my mind, too often they besmirch our history.
To the men and women who staff the poppy stalls, I thank you all. It is because of what you do that we all remember. It is because of what you do that the memories of the very greatest people who ever lived are sustained. The Royal British Legion exists because successive governments have washed their hands of responsibility of Remembrance and caring for those who fought and can no longer care for themselves.
Above all, we must all reflect on where we are today. Today, Britain is a horribly broken and divided country and history shows where that can lead. The sacrifice of so many must not be forgotten and somehow we must put our country back together again. Freedom comes at a huge price and we must remember those who paid the ultimate price. Not a single death should be seen as in vain.