My husband and I attended the Remembrance ceremony in St Pee-sur-Nivelle this morning. We are both ex-Army (him 18 years of service; me 9 years). A decree from the M. le President was read out stating that, as the last of the veterans of the Great War had passed away, the day in France will now commemorate all conflicts and also made a special reference to those men and women who had died in the last year. This reflects the view that has been held for some years in the UK.
This is the first time that we have been in France as civilians at a Remembrance ceremony - the previous occasions having been on military duties in Normandy. We were given a really warm welcome and had the honour of meeting the village's most experienced veteran whose campaigns included WWII, Indochine, Algeria etc. as a Parachutiste. It always pulls on my heart strings to hear a hero say the words, 'I'm 87 and I'm now paying for the wars that I've fought, but I'm a Parachutiste and I'll die standing up; a Parachutiste never dies in his bed.' Others attending were keen to ask us about our own campaign medals (Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia among others) which British servicemen and women wear on Remembrance Day, and also about our poppies, which one lady thought was only a Belgian tradition. Conversely we were told about the French tradition to wear a blue cornflower or blue cornflower badge, as opposed to a poppy. These grew alongside the poppies in the fields. As we understood it, wounded soldiers who were sent to hospital from the trenches, made blue ribbons to represent the cornflowers whilst convalescing. These were recognised as a symbol of the wounded, rather than the dead. I think this is what we understood and am happy to be put right if it's not correct.
Having been unable to buy poppies, I contacted the Royal British Legion and sold poppies in our region last week. It was a bit last minute so I didn't throw the net wider. I have a box of poppies which I will hold for next year. Don't hesitate to contact me or note down my name for the future if you would like me to send you poppies.