Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Purple Poppies

Have you ever heard of purple poppies? They are mentioned in this BBC web page:

What colour to wear - red, white or purple? Red is most popular, but the lesser-seen white poppy dates from 1933, when the Women's Co-operative Guild wanted a lasting symbol for peace and an end to all wars.... Then there are purple poppies, worn to remember the animal victims of war and sold by animal charities.(1)

The Shetland News has more to say on this subject

As Remembrance Day approaches, it is important not only to remember the human victims of wartime, but also the animals who have been used for detection, scouting and rescue, as messengers, as beasts of burden and on the frontline. Vast numbers of animals - in farms and zoos, for instance - continue to be innocent bystander victims when conflicts start. Meanwhile, in secret UK Ministry of Defence Research laboratories, thousands suffer and die each year when they are infected with biological or chemical agents, or deliberately shot or otherwise damaged. To commemorate all the animal victims, Animal Aid has issued a purple poppy, which can be worn alongside the traditional red one, as a reminder that both humans and animals have been - and continue to be - victims of war. The purple poppies cost £1 each (including postage and packing) and are available from  www.animalaid.org.uk  or by calling 01732 364546. A free copy of Animal Aid's colour booklet, Animals: the hidden victims of war, accompanies each order.(2)

The story of animals in the last World War is reflected in the 2005 film "Valiant" (3).

This animated film tells the story of a brave, if somewhat inept, band of pigeons sent across enemy lines in the second world war, to bring back a vital message to England, fighting against the vicious enemy falcons. Valiant is the undersize pigeon who joins together with an inept bunch of companions. The character types are well drawn, and - while quite different - reminded me of army comedies such as "Carry on Sergeant", or "The Army Game" (for those with long memories!).

It is an extremely funny film, and the training sequences are hilarious; when it moves to France, the adventure really begins, and the tensions mounts, and it changes to a very exciting and dramatic film, though still not without humour. A host of British actors provide the voices - I recognised Hugh Laurie and John Cleese among them. Amazingly it is an Ealing Studios Film (I remember them from my youth!) and begins with an animated black and white style newsreel on brave pigeons in the war effort, which is a clever pastiche of the real stuff.

The story is one of how ingenuity, improvisation, and sheer bravery can defeat and enemy, and above all that the fight for freedom is worthwhile. For there is real danger, and not every pigeon survives.

Finally, it ends by showing the truth behind the story. The final credits mention the award given for bravery by animals and birds during the Second World War, and lists the numbers receiving the award; the greatest number being pigeons. There is a roll call, and there - as in the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, the poignancy of the sacrifice comes home, and the part that animals played and - in some parts of the world still play - which must not be neglected, taken for granted, or forgotten.

So why not wear a purple poppy as well as a red one this year? Not in any way to belittle the sacrifice of men and women, but to give just a gentle reminder that theirs was not the only sacrifice.

After all, the same fate awaits human beings and animals alike. One dies just like the other. They are the same kind of creature...They are both going to the same place---the dust. They both came from it; they will both go back to it.  How can anyone be sure that the human spirit goes upward while an animal's spirit goes down into the ground? (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 )

(1) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8333733.stm  
(2) http://www.shetland-news.co.uk/2009/October/letters/Purple%20poppies.htm  
(3) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Valiant-DVD-Gary-Chapman/dp/B000B7KXLI

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