Donald J. Crawford's "Why wear a poppy?"
Way down-under on New Zealand’s South Island, Ms. Judith Ackroyd found this poem amongst her Great Uncle’s things; he originated in Lanelli, South Wales UK and emigrated to NZ. During the First World War he was a medic and joined the hospital ship “Maheno” when it went to ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli.
“Maheno”, a five thousand ton Union SN Co. of NZ passenger steamer regularly crossing the Tasman Sea, was converted to a hospital ship in 1915. Largely paid for by funds raised by the public she, and her sister “Marama” were fitted-out to the highest and latest medical standards and that same year sailed for the eastern Mediterranean to support the disastrous landing on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula. For the record, a five thousand ton ship is tiny by today’s standards; the “fast ferries”, water jet propelled trimarans, on the cross (English) channel run are of a similar size. Those "wave piercers" were designed and most are built "down under" by the way.
The poem reproduced below was printed in a newspaper cutting with the following acknowledgement at its end: “Ivan Haller of Beverley found this poem pinned to a pillar when he paid a visit to the Llanelli Branch, South Wales." Although the author wasn't credited, subsquent research shows it to be Don Crawford of Perth, Ontario, Canada; this Web link gives more information.
This poem was read out as part of Templeton's 2018 RSA Anzac Day Remembrance Ceremony on Wednesday 25th April.
WHY WEAR A POPPY?
“Please wear a poppy”, the lady said
and held one forth but I shook my head.
Then I stopped and watched to see how she’d fare
her face was old and lined with care.
But beneath the scars the years had made
There remained a smile that refused to fade
A boy came whistling down the street
bouncing along on carefree feet
his smile was full of joy and fun
“lady” he said, “may I have one”?
As she pinned it on I heard him say
“why do we wear a poppy today”?
The lady smiled in her wistful way
and answered “This is remembrance day,
the poppy there is a symbol for
the gallant men who died in war
and because they did, you and I are free
that’s why we wear a poppy you see”
“I had a boy about your size
with golden hair and big blue eyes
he loved to play and jump and shout
free as a bird he would race about.
As years went on he learned, and grew
and became a man, as you will too.
He was fine and strong with a boyish smile
but he seemed with us such a little while.
When war broke out he went away,
I still remember his face that day,
when he smiled at me an said ‘goodbye,
I’ll be back soon so please don’t cry’.
But the war went on and he had to stay
all I could do was wait and pray.
His letters told of the awful fight
I can see it still in my dreams at night.
With tanks and guns and cruel barbed wire
and mines and bullets, the bombs and fire.
‘Till at last the war was won
And that’s why we wear a poppy son”.
The small boy turned as if to go
then said “thanks lady, I’m glad I know.
That sure did sound like an awful fight
but your son, did he come home alright?”
A tear rolled down each faded cheek
She shook her head but didn’t speak
I slunk away, head bowed in shame
and if you were me you’d have done the same
for our thanks in giving is oft delayed
though our freedom was bought and thousands paid
And so when you see a poppy worn
let us reflect on the burden borne
by those who gave their very all
when asked to answer their country’s call
that we at home in peace may live.
Then wear a poppy – remember, and give.
SS "Maheno" leaving Wellington in 1915. Thanks to the NZ Government's "History on Line" for the image & aforementioned details.