Community and White Poppies: 5 November

Burton Joyce continues to reveal itself as a great community. Our Vicarage has a largish Bramley apple tree in the front garden. (The Bramley was developed in this area.) I have put the decent fallen apples in a box by the pavement for people to take. They have all gone. People here don’t mind blemished apples which need some work. Then a parcel arrived in our porch – an apple pie! A lovely community.

Part of the inspiration for putting out the apples was that I was told that in living memory Nottingham people used to come on the train to Burton Joyce for a Sunday out, especially in early autumn. Many houses had apple trees and many residents put apples out in boxes. A few were hurled around the streets by youths. Most were collected happily. Families all over Nottingham enjoyed extra apple crumble.

It’s good to maintain the attitudes and actions which make a community good. Aldridge, where we lived from 1997 to 2002, was also a notable good community which people didn’t want to leave, or returned to as soon as they could. All the churches in Aldridge are at least three times stronger than you would expect. Aldridge has a tradition of caring for orphans. There used to be several children’s homes and the villagers welcomed the children in their families for Christmas lunch. (The last children’ home was opened by Princess Diana and is now a couple of housing estates.) I think the care for orphans has attracted God’s blessing on Aldridge. What is the source of the good community of Burton Joyce? Through our church – community magazine, I am asking locals for their answers.

In the magazine I have also explained why I wear a white poppy alongside a red one. Red poppies stand for remembrance and gratitude. They say ‘We will remember them, and we will care for them.’ I have talked with war veterans, some of whom could hardly speak of their experiences – what they saw and what they had to do. I have tried to bring them God’s comfort and forgiveness. They didn’t ask for these experiences, they went because our government required them. We will remember them, we are grateful to them. The red poppy expresses this.

White poppies stand for peace. They say ‘Never again.’ The Great War should have been the war to end all wars. Never again will we decimate a generation because we cannot find other ways to settle differences. But we have had other wars since, and now our soldiers are fighting and dying in Afghanistan. We must find other ways. We must learn to be true peacemakers. We must learn to beat our swords into ploughshares. The white poppy expresses all this, and more.

White poppies were first produced in 1933 by the Women’s Cooperative Guild. For them the red poppy was too much tied in with not only remembering the soldiers who had died, but justifying maintaining and using potent armed forces today. Today they are produced by the Peace Pledge Union as part of their work for peace education. (See  See also the entry on this blog on November 2nd last year.)

A few years ago some of us decided that it is better to wear both poppies. We want to honour the contribution of servicemen. We consider that the best contribution to future generations is to find solutions other than war. We consider that the best support we can give to our troops in Afghanistan is to bring them home as soon as possible.

The red poppy on its own now seems to mean ‘We are grateful for our soldiers, our current armed forces. We are ready to take up the fight again today.’ The Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall celebrates and, in a British understated way, glorifies current servicemen and their role to kill others in defence of the realm. The British Legion this year in its publicity quotes a poem by John McCrae: ‘

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders field.’

No! We refuse to take up the quarrel. We refuse to look for and engage in quarrels in the same destructive old way. We keep faith with those thousands who died needlessly in Flanders Field by saying with them and with their relatives ‘Never Again!’

Roger Harper

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