Tag Archives: Remembrance day

Remember me, 1916.

I once went to visit the The Somme. It wasn’t really my intention. I got a cheap flight from Dublin to Beauvais and rather than go into Paris, (a city I’d been to on several occasions), I decided to head north.

I found myself in places like Albert, Amiens and Arras. Pretty much the front line back in 1916.

There’s a monument in Arras upon which are engraved 70,000 names of men and women who were killed. They weren’t the only ones killed there. (The total figure is around 158,000.) They were just the ones whose bodies could not be found. They had been vapourised by shelling.


Monument at Arras

Near Amiens I saw a bomb crater. Nothing unusual in that. The fact is, this crater was about 100 feet in diameter. And about 30-40 feet deep. It was on the German front line.

In Albert, I was walking down a country lane and, when I turned a corner, I was confronted by a Commonwealth cemetery. I have never seen so many white marble headstones in my life. Row upon row stretching into the distance. Many engraved with the epitaph: Here lies an unknown soldier.

Commonwealth cemetery.

It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had.

My thoughts go out to all the people of all nations who have died in conflicts around the globe. And obviously, to their surviving ancestors. Though, I am finding it a little difficult to extend that sentiment to the Taliban at the moment.



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A poem for Remembrance Sunday

If you ever get the chance to go to Edinburgh, you should. It is one of the most beautiful cities on this planet.

Edinburgh Castle

I wrote this poem back in the late nineties on a trip to the Edinburgh Castle War Memorial.

What I was trying to get across was the magnitude of loss we have suffered.

It was first published in the Amnesty International anthology: Human Rights Have No Borders.


© David Milligan-Croft

I was reading a book
In the Edinburgh Castle War Memorial.
It was a big fat book
With lots of names in it.
There was a plaque
Above the book which read,
Mons. August, 1914.

Above the plaque
Was a banner; fading
Regimental colours that,
Even now, smelled of gun grease and blood.

Next to the flag
Was another flag. Beneath it
Was a plaque which read,
Marne. September, 1914.
And beneath that,
Was another big fat book.

I strolled around the sombre hall,
Flicking through books as big as tables.
All with foreign names on them: Ypres, Gallipoli,
Jutland, Somme, Dardenelles,
Baghdad, Arras, Flanders, Amiens…

Outside, in the cold November sun,
I lit a cigarette. I bet, I thought to myself,
That any name you could possibly think of,
Would be in one of those books.

Edinburgh Castle War Memorial

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FIFA Poppy ban – In Flanders Fields

There’s been a bit of furor over the past couple of days about FIFA’s decision to uphold a law which prohibits football teams from wearing political symbols which may affect football’s neutrality. Ergo: The England team can’t wear the poppy symbol on their shirts during their friendly match with Spain on Saturday.

What a kerfuffle.

The question shouldn’t be about whether the England team should be allowed to wear a poppy, but: Why are we playing a friendly game of football at a time of national mourning?

I wear a poppy. In fact, I’m on my fourth one this week as three have already fallen off. (Can someone please invent one that doesn’t disintegrate after three minutes?)

I wear it to remember all the people who have died during wars. On all sides.

The Somme

I’m not condoning some of the wars that have, and still are, being fought.

Moreover, I feel sorry for the men and women who have died needlessly at the whims of politicians and monarchies in conflicts that are not about defence or freedom but about oil and greed.

Unfortunately, my reason for wearing it, isn’t necessarily the ‘official’ reason people wear it.

A lot of people in Britain and Commonwealth countries wear it to remember their war dead. Not everyone.

The Somme

In some countries the Poppy is seen as a symbol British Imperialism.

Would the Poppy’s symbolism differ if the match was against Germany rather than Spain? How would the people of Germany feel? Would it incite national pride on both sides? Is it conducive to bonhomie? I rather doubt it.

Would it open the door for other countries to follow suit?

Argentina wearing a symbol to commemorate their war dead in the Falklands conflict.

Israel wearing a symbol which commemorates the holocaust victims.

The French wearing one for Waterloo. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

America wearing one for Independence Day.

It would go on and on.

But it’s an act of remembrance, not a celebration of victory.

So let’s go way back to find out why we wear one in the first place.

In Greek and Roman times the poppy symbolized… okay, not that far back.

American, Moira Michael is accredited with first wearing the poppy ‘In memory of our war dead’ in 1918.

It wasn’t until 11th November 1921 that the first Legion Poppy Appeal was launched to raise money for the victims and families of war. (Something which I feel the government should be doing.)

It’s not just an act of remembrance, but a fund raiser.

By wearing the poppy symbol, are the England football team raising money for the British Legion? I don’t know. Are they donating a huge some of money to the British Legion for the privilege of wearing it?

FIFA have said they can wear it on their tracky tops and on billboards around the stadium. (I’m not really sure what the difference is if you can wear it on your trackies but not your shirt.) You either can, or can’t, wear it.

Ultimately, it is about choice.

Some people choose to buy and wear one. Some people choose just to donate some money. Others do neither.

I used to wear one when I lived in Ireland. Some people took offence while others asked where they could buy one. I certainly didn’t wear it to offend.

A lot of Irish people died during the First World War. (Which is why I think they were offended. i.e. Conscription.) It was also at a very politically sensitive time as the 1916 Uprising took place in Dublin and the instigators subsequently executed by the British army.

When I went to the Somme, (not in 1916 you understand), I was sick to my stomach to see field after field of tens of thousands of white stone gravestones.

There is one monument in Arras that has around 70,000 names inscribed upon it. And they are just the names of the men they couldn’t find body parts of.

They had been disintegrated by shells.

For me, the poppy is an act of remembrance, not to rub someone’s nose in it.

I think the football team should wear the poppy on Saturday, and as directed by FIFA, the officials will abandon the game. Which is only proper as it is a time of remembrance and national mourning, not for playing a stupid friendly game of football.

Near Albert, in Northern France, there is a crater about 100 feet across and 30 feet deep where allies tunneled under the German lines, planted explosives and blew up part of their front line trenches.

I climbed down into the crater and down at the bottom were several poppies. I picked one up and it read: Gott Mit Uns.

Which, in German, means: God with us.

Perhaps it is time for an International Symbol to commemorate all the victims of war.

On that note, let’s have a look at the poem by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872 – 1918).

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

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.

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A poetry interlude

I appreciate that this is a little late for the Nov 11th memorial service but I thought I’d share it anyway. It’s about the magnitude of loss.

– Edinburgh Castle War Memorial, 1998.

First published in The Amnesty International Anthology: Human Rights Have No Borders.

I strolled around the sombre hall,
Flicking through dusty old books.
There were books as big as tables,
All with foreign names on them:
Ypres, Somme, Gallipoli, Dardenelles…

Above the books were banners;
Fading regimental colours
That, even still, smelled of gun grease blood.

Inside the books, were the names of men and women.
But mostly men.
Hundreds and thousands of men’s names.

Outside, under a cold November sunset,
I stood on the battlements and lit a cigarette.
I bet, I thought to myself,
That any name you could possibly think of,
Would be in one of those books.

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