THE HERALD'S OPINION: Old soldiers and fields of red poppies

SATURDAY, November 11, 2017, marks the 99th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.

Across the Hunter, around the country and throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, services will be held to commemorate this pivotal day in world history.

In Canberra, the Remembrance Day national ceremony will be attended by a range of dignitaries and diplomats.

In Melbourne, as the accompanying photograph shows, some 200,000 artificial poppies have been stuck into the ground beside that city’s Shrine of Remembrance.

The red field poppy was adopted as the flower of remembrance soon after the end of the war, the inspiration coming from the poem In Flanders Fields, written by a Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, in 1915.

Colonel McCrae was 41 when he volunteered to serve abroad, having earlier fought in South Africa.

Having buried a close friend at Ypres, he wrote the poem the following day.

The opening stanza sets the scene:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row.

At a time when the youth of many nations were literally cannon fodder to the great machinery of war, the poem appealed to the soldier and the home-fire patriot alike.

Today, from a distance, we can look more critically on some of the military follies that caused the loss of so many lives, in that war and in the others that followed.

Sadly, however, it is obvious that humankind is yet to learn to live in peace. Sixteen years after the September 11 attacks, the threat of terrorism is an all too real possibility for the citizens of many nations. Afghanistan and the Middle East are still hot spots of instability, and Australian Defence Force figures indicate that we have more than 2300 soldiers deployed abroad, with the biggest operations centred on the Middle East.

It is an undeniable trait of humanity that while a lot of old soldiers become critics of the wars they fought in, there is never a shortage of young people prepared to sign up for a career that could potentially result in a life surrendered in its prime. Indeed, in every nation that took part in both world wars, there were sons who signed up for the second battle despite knowing what the first one had done to their fathers. It is this selfless dedication of all who have died or been injured in Australia’s name that we stop to honour at 11am on Remembrance Day.

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