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Remembrance Day Musings

Poppy - Remembrance Day - BobBlahBlah.comThere are a bunch of posts and articles flying around right now… talking about the different colours of Poppies, and which ones different folks support. (Red or White)

I haven’t had an opportunity to read most of the articles, and I don’t know enough about the various discussions and debates to comment on them… and to me, any discussion about this is really quite pointless.

When I see a Red Poppy, I think of my Dad, and my Grandfather.

 —–

alex-buchananMy Grandfather (Alex Buchanan) is a man I never knew, who lived and worked in Singapore.

Before the Second World War, he fought against the injustices of the time, for those with skin of a different colour… at a time when the British Colonials thought nothing of their two-class system.

When the war started, he managed to get his family and wife safely onto a freighter, and stayed behind to help fight the Japanese invasion of Singapore… which didn’t last long.  All the guns were fixed… pointing out to sea.  The Japanese invaded through the mainland, and Singapore quickly surrendered.

My Grandfather spent the remainder of his life in Changi Prisoner of War camp, which is where he died.

—–

Robert Harold Gray - Entertaining his fellow soldiers, during a moment's respite - Served 1939 to 1946 - throughout Europe and Africa - BobBlahBlah.comOn September 3rd, 1939, my dad was a young man who had just celebrated his 20th birthday a few days earlier.  He had just started working for the BBC in Scotland.  Then, at 11:15 in the morning, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany.  A day later, my Dad was a soldier.

Like countless others, he signed up immediately… and through 1945, he was assigned to various units as a radio operator on the front lines… until he was wounded.  Then he would get sent to a hospital, to get patched up, and he would be re-deployed to another unit, on another front.

He fought in Italy, Crete, Sicily and Africa.

He was a young man, named Robert Harold Gray, who lived on Hamilton Road in Rutherglen, Scotland. Funnily enough, he knew three OTHER Robert Grays who lived on the same street in the same town.  Not so funny, was the reality that my dad was the only one of the four who came home alive.  And my dad knew full well that it was only by fluke that he made it home.  There was a particular moment during a battle, when his unit was being overrun by the German Army, and amid the retreat, he let a fellow soldier go ahead of him.  That soldier was immediately killed by a grenade blast.  My Dad was evacuated, with more shrapnel wounds, but lucky to be alive.

After the War ended, he was discharged, and went home to Scotland. The first thing he did was burn his uniform, and put away his medals.

He didn’t ever glorify war or hold a grudge.  One of his eventual best friends when he came to Vancouver, was a German neighbour, who lived across the street, who had been a bomber pilot during the Blitz.

My Dad didn’t sit around telling war stories.  He didn’t like or want to talk about it.

He only allowed us two windows to peek through, to catch a glimpse of the pain he had seen and endured during the war years:

– During my teenage years, on Sunday nights, he would listen to Dame Vera Lynn’s record, over and over.  Often I would come in, as he was singing along to the song “We’ll Meet Again”, to find him with tears in his eyes, lost in another time.

– During this time, he and I started watching Remembrance Day services together… until he passed away in 1999.

Since then, when Remembrance Day comes, I don’t go to the Cenotaph… I observe the Ceremony, spending time with my Dad’s memory, and thinking of the sacrifices that he and his friends made, to try to bring sanity back to the world.

The Poppy to me is a symbol of my Dad’s and Grandfather’s generation… most of them, now gone… who gave us gifts that we still enjoy.  Freedom and choice.

I do not diminish or discount the importance of having discussions and debates about the issues of Veterans’ support, peace-keeping efforts and the role of armies in the modern era.  However, I shall recuse myself from that discussion.  To me, the intent of Remembrance Day is to remember those who gave years of their lives, or in some cases, their actual lives, to fight for the intangible values of Rights and Freedoms, that we now enjoy.

The Poppy doesn’t glorify war.  There is no glory in war.  There is only sacrifice and loss, and that is what we honour on Remembrance Day.

I shall wear my Red Poppy, and with it, cherish spending a moment of Remembrance with my Dad, and the Grandfather I never knew.

We’ll Meet Again

We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where.., don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

Keep smiling through,
Just like you always do,
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds, far away.

So will you please say hello,
To the folks that I know,
Tell them I won’t be long,
They’ll be happy to know, that as you saw me go
I was singing this song.

We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

 

Songwriters: Arthur Wilkinson, Ross Parker, Hugh Childs

Published by: Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

8 Responses to Remembrance Day Musings

  1. Nice, Bob. Thank you. The whole wearing-the-poppy thing is starting to remind me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer is taunted when he won’t ‘wear the ribbon’ whilst on an AIDS walk. Every year, I use the same old poppy that I bought many years ago, and many days I forget to put it on. But I contribute to almost every Poppy Box that I see because I know the money does good things. And for the other 355 days of the year I help seniors, veterans or not…because they all suffered one way or another during the war years. And yes: I remember my grandfather well, in his kilt, amongst the WWI chaos. Never forgotten.

  2. I, too, remember Vera Lynn’s records filling the house with her music. We knew all the words, and hearing her music now sends me back in time to the house where we grew up.
    I learned so much about our Dad from your post. Thank you.

  3. Bob, very touching. Thank you for sharing it. We need those stories. Jim McGregor and I wrote a song for Remembrance Day.
    Grandpa’s Friends

    Grandpa pinned a poppy on his uniform today
    He always stands up straight when he dresses that way
    He hummed a tune his friends taught him, soft and hard to hear
    But I think he knows I listen, and he lets me see his tears

    I heard him talking to his friends I listened as he prayed
    Now we’re going to meet them all at Grandpa’s big parade
    From my Daddy’s shoulders I wave to catch his eye
    Though his gaze is fixed upon the flag he salutes and marches by

  4. The song finishes:

    We had to pay the price he said to bring war to an end
    But freedom has a mighty cost The lives of Grandpa’s friends

    I asked if I could meet them and he took me for a walk
    We knelt beside a list of names written on a rock
    And he said we left them over there in a cold distant rain
    And though he still talks to them in prayer they can’t come home again

    We had to pay the price…

    He said I went to war for my mom and dad and his eyes filled with water
    And for your dad and for you lad and for your sons and daughters

    Many years have come and gone as I pin my poppy on
    Last year Grandpa joined his friends in the land beyond the sun
    But I swear that I will not forget the sacrifice they made
    Now my kids and I will walk with friends in Grandpa’s big parade

    We had to pay the price…

    Cheers Bob. I will be at the Cenotaph this morning at 11:00 11/11.

  5. Hi Bob
    Really loved hearing about your Dad – I only met him once when we went to Vancouver before we had the boys (was it still the 90s?) and he was so kind to Andy and I. He was such a warm and caring person and I have never forgotten his gentle kindness and generosity. Men and women of his generation saw and endured so much pain and most carried it around with them until the day they died – how good that Harold could let his emotions out and find a way of coping with the awful experience of war.
    Another Buchanan to remember – who we have recently found listed at the Scottish War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle – is young James Buchanan of the Highland Light Infantry. This was Alexander’s brother who aged just 18 was killed in World War One on 15 July1916 during a trench battle. There are some documents on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org) site relating to his place of burial and gravestone. He is buried amongst gravestones which say only Known Unto God and his mother Margaret paid for her own engraving to be added to his gravestone – “In God’s Keeping”. How sad that she probably never saw his last resting place but for some they never even knew where or how their young sons died. Take care Bob. Caroline x

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