Sports commentator Don Cherry has brought poppies to the forefront of the Canadian conversation. Cherry was fired on Remembrance Day for remarks he made on national television that basically implied newer immigrants to Canada might be less likely to wear a poppy on Remembrance Day than other Canadians. He took them to task for this. The endless interviews, social media posts and news stories about the incident had me thinking about my experiences with poppies on Remembrance Day weekend.
On Friday, November 9, I gave an art gallery tour to a group of visiting teenagers from the United States. They were curious about the people they saw wearing poppies. It wasn’t something they were at all familiar with. I told them about the Canadian John McCrae and his poem about poppies growing in a battlefield in Belguim. The American kids said on November 11 their country honours veterans in many different ways just as we do, but they don’t wear poppies.
On Saturday, November 10 I went to a concert at the Minto Armoury here in Winnipeg. My daughter-in-law sings in the Polycoro choir and they were presenting music for Remembrance Day along with the Regimental Band of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.
Before the concert, I bumped into an acquaintance wearing two poppies a red one and a white one. He said the red poppy was in memory of military personnel who died in wars and the white one in memory of civilians who died. He told me during World War II 20 million soldiers and 40 million civilians lost their lives.
Interestingly the concert music also reflected both these sombre realities. The band played a piece called Letters From Home by Peter Meechan that included a section where World War I soldiers were in the trenches and the music portrayed the chaos and the guns and the mortar fire. The choir sang a piece called Arise, Cry Out by composer Norbert Palej that commemorated the death during the World War II Holocaust of the Jewish citizens from the Warsaw Ghetto including many children from an orphanage there.
All members of the choir and band wore a single red poppy.
On Sunday, November 10 a choir and instrumental group from my church presented Mass in a Time of War by Franz Joseph Haydn. I noticed that all of the musicians involved were wearing buttons the Mennonite Church hands out for Remembrance Day. They say To Remember is To Work for Peace. Mennonites are conscientious objectors. We believe all war is wrong.
The buttons reminded me of my own grandfather, a conscientious objector who was thrown into military prison because he refused to do rifle training after being conscripted into the army in Russia.
No poppies, one poppy, two different coloured poppies, an alternate peace pin. There are a diversity of ways to recognize and remember the military and civilian victims of war just as there are a diversity of people in our country none of whom should be singled out in any way for unwarranted criticism or denigration on Remembrance Day or any day of the year.