Opinion

I am vehemently anti-war so I wear a poppy — here's why: Opinion

I am vehemently anti-war, yet as soon as Halloween is over I keep my eyes open for Royal Canadian Legion volunteers collecting donations in exchange for poppy pins. Once secured, the challenge is to see if I can keep it fixed to my coat for the next 11 days.

It's the tragedy that is at the heart of why I wear a poppy

Dave Stewart wears a poppy every November, but as it has become the subject of some controversy, he found himself looking at its meaning. (Submitted by Dave Stewart)

As soon as Halloween is over, I keep my eyes open for Royal Canadian Legion volunteers collecting donations in exchange for poppy pins. Once secured, the challenge is to see if I can keep it fixed to my coat for the next 11 days.

Confession — I'd lost my first by lunchtime on Nov. 1.

Poppies have been a traditional symbol of remembrance since the end of the First World War. However, over the last few years there has been some push back, as some see the poppy as a symbol of the glorification war.

It's a public conversation that has had me thinking about just why I wear a poppy, and what it means to me. After all, analyzing something that we do by rote is vital, I think.

Full disclosure — I am vehemently anti-war.

No glory, only tragedy

The truth is, I see no glory in it, only tragedy. Though I know that military intervention is sometimes inevitable (hello, first wave Nazis!), it's the tragedy that is at the heart of why I wear a poppy.

Norman Day, on the left, smoking a cigarette, during the liberation of Holland. (Submitted by Dave Stewart)

You see, I come from a family that has a history in wartime engagement. My maternal grandfather, Norman Day, was part of the Canadian contingent that liberated the Netherlands during the Second World War, and he later saw military service in Korea and Egypt, among other places.

My paternal grandfather Alexander Stewart's wartime story is the stuff of familial legend.

Sent to capture Vimy Ridge during the bloody fighting of the First World War, my grandfather suffered severe shrapnel wounds to his arm and face, with a third of his jaw destroyed.

A battlefield mess, field medics believed he was a casualty. Removing a grenade from his belt, he threatened detonation, which not surprisingly saw him attended to immediately.

Sent back to Canada, he was recovering in Halifax's Camp Hill Hospital when the Halifax Explosion occurred, and he was roused from his hospital bed to patrol for looters.

What resonates with me about Alexander's story is not the high drama of what I've just related, but the aftermath that followed and which my father has quietly shared with me.

Scars which never healed

In it, my father talks about his father's physical and mental scars which never healed. He tells me of hearing his father wake almost nightly from nightmares of being trapped in trenches with rats crawling over him. 

Dave Stewart, centre, with his grandfather Alexander Stewart, left, and father Russell Stewart, right, in September 1965. (Submitted by Dave Stewart)

He tells me of the metal plates that formed his father's jaw, and of his father's need to numb the memories and nightmares by losing himself in too much alcohol.

That's my family's legacy of war — trauma.

I know the common thinking about why people end up on the battlefield is that it comes from a sense of duty for some, a lust for glory for others and a place of naïveté for still more.

But I often wonder about others' motivations — like poverty, absence of opportunity, desperation and social pressures. I don't want to make any generalizations about anyone caught in such an unimaginable and dreadful situation.

Why I wear a poppy

As a result, I don't know why my grandfathers were a part of our world wars. I only know that when I wear my poppy they're with me again.

When I wear my poppy I'm remembering everyone affected by war, whether military or civilian, across races, genders, ideologies and borders.

And when I wear my poppy, I'm remembering the tragedy of war, all wars, those in the past and those sadly ongoing. I wear it in the genuine and fragile hope that wars will be a thing of the past, even though the pessimist in me fears differently.

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About the Author

Dave Stewart

Dave Stewart is an "ad man" at Graphcom in Charlottetown; a DIY filmmaker and musician; and contributor to The Buzz, Rue Morgue, Art Decades, Studio CX and online at RetroSlashers.net. He edited and contributed to the P.E.I. horror anthology Fear from a Small Place, and 26 two-minute episodes of his cartoon for The Buzz, And Yet I Blame Hollywood, were adapted on the CBC-TV show ZeD.