Heroism, patriotism and some other much more controversial “isms” are those that lead a nation to be part of a war, those that give strength to soldiers in battle and those that make the soul of the dead be remembered forever. .
War has its mystique beyond the pain it causes and the unanimous desire for peace. In Europe, this mystique reaches its highest point in this month of November in which the Windsors lead, in London, the acts of Remembrance Day, or Day of Remembrance. Why on this date? Because on November 11, 1918 at 11 in the morning the Armistice that ended the First World War was signed. In other words, a date as cabalistic as 11-11-11, London time.
All of Britain comes together to remember those who fell in battle and also Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, all members of the Commonwealth, the community of nations that encompasses countries that once had ties to the United Kingdom.
And as there is no mystique without symbols that reinforce it, a flower, the red poppy, is the one that represents those dead and is the one that the living worship.
Poppies grow in the fields of Flanders
Between the crosses, row after row,
mark our graves. And in the sky
the larks, while singing boldly, fly.
They are barely heard by the sound of cannons.
We are the dead
A few days ago we lived, we felt the dawn,
we saw the glow of the sunset.
We loved and were loved.
Now we lie in the fields of Flanders.
Against the enemy continue our fight,
take the torch that our exhausted hands throw at you,
keep it up.
If they lack the faith of those who have died, we will never rest
Although poppies flourish in the fields of Flanders.
This poem was written by John McCrae in 1915 and it was not by chance. Mc Crae was a Canadian doctor and military man who had participated in the war in Flanders, in Belgium, during the First War. There a very dear friend had lost his life and, when later he went to visit his grave and those of other comrades, he noticed that, next to the crosses, thousands of red poppies had grown, just as in the battlefields of France , during the Napoleonic wars. This vision inspired him to write this poem that was published on December 8, 1915 under the name In Flanders Fields (In Flanders Fields). Mc Crae passed away shortly after but his words were not forgotten. The poem had caused a great impact and the poppy began to be seen as a symbol of glorious death and rebirth, as the very image of resilience.
And, in this case, a scientific basis supports the myth: some projectiles have lime in their composition and, where they fall, they kill the roots and the crops die. All except the poppies, which are favored by a certain dose of lime. And they grow by the thousands and with their bright red color, like the blood shed by soldiers. This scientific support, which serves to reassure those who need to find an explanation for everything, has nothing to do with the fact that the poppy has transcended to this day as a symbol of war.
Rather, that was due to a marketing strategy. In 1920, after the war, an American teacher read the poem and adopted the use of the poppy on her lapel but, in addition, it occurred to her to make poppies in red silk to sell and, with that money, help the ex-combatants who had returned crippled. This idea soon became popular in France and England, where it has remained to this day.
In fact, Camila, the Duchess of Cornwall and heir consort to the throne, is the patron of The Poppy Factory (Poppy is poppy in English), a non-governmental organization that helps veterans of wars to insert themselves into society for work. As patron of this institution and on behalf of the Crown, Camila attended, on November 4, the Field of Remembrance, next to Westminster Abbey, to pay her tribute. He wore, of course, a jewel-poppy on his lapel and a chinstrap that another NGO sells to raise funds, also with poppies in the design of the fabric.
This act was the beginning of a series of celebrations that end the Day of Remembrance, or Armistice Day and in which tribute is paid to those who died in all the wars in which Great Britain has participated and also to the veterans of those wars . Throughout the week leading up to November 11, members of the royal household wear a poppy on their lapels. This year, of course, everything was different since the health crisis forced them to be carried out with a small number of people.
The presence of the queen was not expected in any of them. But Isabel II, 94 young years, always surprises. Despite the pandemic and the fact that it was not on the agenda, one afternoon, he escaped from the palace to pay homage, in privacy, to those who gave their lives in battle and visited, with the sole presence of his aide, the bishop and from the court photographer, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Westminster Abbey. The images that circulated allowed us to see the queen with a chinstrap for the first time. Black with white trim, the brainchild of Angela Kelly, completed Her Majesty’s solemn look.
This monument was inaugurated by his grandfather on November 11, 1920 and, although great celebrations were expected for the centenary, we will see that they had to be reduced to a minimum. The Tomb has enormous significance for the ladies of the royal family since each one of them has visited it after their wedding ceremony to deposit the bouquet. Diana did it in 1981, Kate Middleton in 2011 and Meghan Markle in 2018. The last was Princess Beatrice of York this year, in the midst of a pandemic. And Isabel repeated it last week, who brought as an offering an exact replica of the bouquet she had deposited in 1947 when she married Prince Felipe.
In keeping with the times, the official social networks were also “pooled” and the accounts @theroyalfamily, @clarencehouse Y @kensingtonroyal They showed new profile photos in which we saw the queen and her heirs, each wearing poppies on their lapels. In addition, Kate, the Windsor friend of new technologies, was connected by Zoom with the military who are serving abroad and with relatives of war victims. Always, obviously, wearing his poppy.
The annual Remembrance Day festival was, this year, virtual and thousands of English people were able to see it on television. Prince Charles, in his words, recalled those who fought for freedom and made a parallel with the current situation: “In this challenging year perhaps we have realized that the freedoms for which they fought for us are more valuable than that we knew, and that the debt we owe them is even greater than we imagine ”.
Last Sunday, finally, the main act took place in the Cenotaph, attended by all the members of the Royal Household and the government. And, instead of the thousands of veterans who parade every year, only a few were present. The Prince of Wales, accompanied by Prince William, was the one who presided over the event. The queen, visibly distressed, and the rest of the family watched from the balconies, always keeping their distance. The queen wore five poppies on her lapel, Camila one and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, three. Although there is no official explanation, it is believed that they carry a flower for each of those killed in battle in their respective families.
In addition to the minute of silence and the allusive words, offerings of poppies were deposited on behalf of Prince Felipe, retired from public activity and of each one of those present.
Rumor has it that Prince Harry, self-exiled with his wife in the United States, was offended and displaced because no one had put a crown in his name and, not to be the least, placed a wreath to soldiers buried in the Los Angeles cemetery. Angels Beyond the criticism for that kind of parallel court that Harry and Meghan want to create, there is no doubt that his feelings are genuine since for ten years he was an active member of the army, an institution with which he feels very close.
All these acts showed that COVID-19 has accelerated the times for the queen’s retirement. There is no talk of abdication, not even regency, but it is clear that the Prince of Wales and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, are the ones who assumed all the prominence.
In fact, the central act of last Wednesday (the one from 11 from 11 to 11) at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was they who presided over it. With great solemnity but without neglecting the complicity that characterizes the couple, Carlos presented himself with all the decorations on his chest and Camila in black and with her elegant chinstrap of poppies. And it will also be this couple who will represent the queen today in Berlin when they attend the Veteran’s Day celebration.
All the events for Remembrance Day in 2020 are now ending. Although a certain tragic spirit always hovers over them, this year they have also been sad and a bit lackluster. The United Kingdom was and is being severely punished by the pandemic and we can intuit that both the members of the royal family and everyone present would be willing (like us) to win this battle and for the poppies to grow at once.