Sunday, November 10, 2013

Polyester Poppies

As Poppy Day again approaches I find my blood rising at the sight of everyone on all of the UK TV channels wearing the poppy, some even from mid-October. This polyester patriotism is nauseating. Others have written better about it than I could.

It is enough to say that in my youth I would never wear a poppy.

In the first place it was British and on the wrong side of the fight for Irish freedom. I later realised how it had been hijacked by the Northern Ireland Unionists to be flaunted in the face of the Nationalists on Remembrance Day. Once, at a checkpoint on Lifford Bridge on the Border, I was faced with a British soldier, rifle in one hand and poppy can in the other. Perhaps he noticed the car registration, but he never approached me on that score.

Later, in following up my family history, I found that my uncle John had died on the Somme in 1916. So, in order to honour him and, in part, to reclaim the poppy from the Unionists, I took to wearing one for a few years. I have recounted this elsewhere.

Then the sheer sick political correctness and exploitation behind the push to wear the poppy got to me. Wearing it has become obligatory in the UK as a sign of patriotism, including support for more recent illegal invasions of other countries and the slaughtering of their civilians with weapons of unspeakable horror, which weapons are banned by international conventions signed up to by the invading states.

So, having done my bit for my uncle, I will no longer wear the poppy.

Instead, today, I will remember the deaths in WWI of two very different men.

Rifleman John P Dwyer
1893 - 1916

John Dwyer was born in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, in 1893. He seems to have had some Irish language or nationalist leanings, having won a book prize at the 1903 Mayo Feis. By 1914 he was working in the Civil Service in London and by 1916 he was serving with the Civil Service Rifles on the Somme. He died that year in the offensive on High Wood, a victim of the arrogance of the British High Command.

He still lies where he died. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and in the Mayo Remembrance Park in Castlebar.

Further details on my website

Lieutenant Richard Gardiner Brewster
1892 - 1918

Richard was born in D'Olier St., Dublin, in 1892. He was the son of William Theodore Brewster, then an accountant, but subsequently to become manager of the Irish Independent. Richard was renowned as a fine horseman and in 1912, after a period as a civil servant in the Department of Agriculture, he joined the South Irish Horse Regiment. He had two stints at the front in WWI and it was during the second of these that he died, in March 1918.

He still lies where he died. He is commemorated on the memorial in Pozières and on his family's gravestone in Kilbarrack Cemetery, Co. Dublin.

Further details on my website

Today these two men lie beneath French soil, separated by a just a few kilometres.

John Dwyer was my uncle.

And my connection with Richard Brewster?

Well, in 1946, Richard's brother, Gordon, died in my mother's shop in Howth, Co. Dublin. As a result, I was conscious of Gordon Brewster from an early age. You can read about that on the excellent blog of the National Library of Ireland. When I started rooting out my own family history in recent years I decided to check out Gordon's as well. And that is how I came across Richard.

How sad that these two young soldiers died in vain.

Today, let us at least honour their memory.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's no doubt that remembrance and never again are often hijacked by support our soldiers in their campaigns today.

Not surprising given the poem that inspired the whole poppy thing.

"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 fields."

Or in other words, more of the same please.