This past Sunday, November 13, was “Remembrance Sunday” in Great Britain. Everywhere this month as in every month of November for nearly a century, red poppies made of silk or paper or plastic, collected in exchange for donations to the “Poppy Appeal” of the Royal British Legion, have appeared on the lapels of Britons of every creed and tribe and political stripe, men and women alike. Inspired by the poem, “In Flanders Fields,” written by Canadian physician Lt. Col. John McCrae during World War I, the Poppy Appeal symbolizes honor for the memory and gratitude for the sacrifice of the nation’s war dead as well as commitment to the needs of present-day veterans.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS by Lt Col John McCrae (1872-1918) 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.
There is a tremendous swell of good feeling and patriotism surrounding the Poppy Appeal. I first witnessed this a year ago while traveling between London and Wales. Scrupulously polite army and naval officers, smartly dressed in uniform, their smiling faces brimming with the happy promise of youth, gather in train stations to sing songs, collect money for the appeal, and hand out poppies to the public. They give Britons reason to remember and renew feelings of national honor and hope for the future. You can see it in the faces of ordinary men and women fairly beaming with pride as they pause on the way to wherever they are going to listen to the chorus of a marching band—mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who see their own loved ones in these servicemen and women. The expressions of the onlookers all say the same thing: We love you. We claim you as our own. We wish you Godspeed. We would defend you, who defend us. You make us feel better about ourselves and our country, for if you are the future of Britain, what a very bright future it must be.
I was in London at All Saints Church in Blackheath on Remembrance Sunday, this year. During the prayers of the faithful, recited by a darling little cherub of a girl with the most punctilious elocution, a prayer was first offered for “Elizabeth, our queen,” followed by a prayer for the “American president-elect.” I was greatly touched by this, as I was by the rousing chorus of “God Save the Queen” into which the congregation erupted followed the closing benediction, as is the tradition every Remembrance Sunday.
It’s no secret that during the presidential campaign, Donald Trump had few supporters in London or most of Europe, for that matter. No one in British politics—not even Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson—talks like Trump. People cringed and marveled at the very idea that someone as inarticulate, crass, rude and erratic as Trump could rise to the pinnacle of power in the most powerful nation on earth. Unlike American pollsters who wrote him off, the people I spoke to around London expressed a knowing sense of dread that he was winning and would win. Fresh from the shock of Brexit and unburdened by any bias for what they wished to see in the political future of Hillary Clinton, they uniformly saw and lamented the fact that Trump was the man of the new American hour.
And yet on Remembrance Sunday, they prayed for him. In the same breath, they prayed that God might save the queen and Trump alike. No stranger bedfellows have there ever been than Donald and Elizabeth, and yet the people in an ancient little church in London prayed for them both. It was such a very British thing to do. So, therefore, do I pray, and so should we all.