Red, White or …. a Tomato?

Red or white? There has been a lot of debate about the colour of poppies this year. Not sure where you stand on this issue, especially on this 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, but I would like to throw something else into the mix: red, white or …. a tomato?

Now stay with me on this .. all will become clear I promise you. In 1979 I joined the Royal Navy and served until 2007 (that’s over 28 years). I married a serving Naval Nurse and have a son serving in the Royal Marines Band Service. My father was in the Royal Navy and my Grandfather a Warrant Officer in the Military Police during WW2. I have a reasonable military history … I lost good mates during the Falklands conflict, and many others over the years whilst serving. I have been involved in repatriations from abroad and comforted widows at memorial services … I have cast many wreaths into the sea over wrecks and war graves of ships from WW1, WW2 and the Falklands. I restored a memorial to guys who died when their helicopter from HMS Brilliant went down off the coast of Kenya … I could go on. I say all that simply to put some context to what I am about to say. I personally am not that fussed what colour poppy you wear to remember. But remember we must … men, women, children, animals, serving or civilian who have died in wars and conflicts over many, many years. It may seem obvious but I believe that remembrance is simply about that … remembering, BUT also teaching a new generation of the horrors of war and conflict alongside the sacrifices made when serving others. Be that serving in military uniform in times of war or emergency services in peace time and of course those sacrifices made by families and friends ….. the list goes on. What helps you remember, red or white ?

Or a tomato ? In 2006 I was serving on HMS Chatham and we were operating in the Falkland Islands. We laid wreaths over several wreck sites and battlefield memorials during the patrol, but one stands out. It was over the wreck of HMS Coventry sunk 25th May 1982 with the loss of 19 sailors (one a very close oppo of mine called Ian). We had on board a Warrant Officer (lets call him Jack) who had been on board Coventry when it was hit by bombs and sunk. He was serving in the Falklands at the time so came out with us to pay his respects. I knew him a bit but we had never served together, but were both Warrant Officers of the same generation. It was obviously an emotional time for him, as Chatham lay silent over the wreck of Coventry. We carried out the ceremonial, said the immortal words ‘They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old, age shall not weary them or the years condemn, at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them’. The Bosuns Mate piped the ‘still’ and ‘Jack’ cast the wreath into the water. I then handed him a bit of a tomato … he looked at me … smiled and threw it into the sea. After the silence the Bosuns mate piped the ‘Carry on’, we turned right, dismissed. ‘Jack’ shook my hand, said ‘Thanks Pincher – appreciated’. The Captain said ‘I will never understand Warrant Officers’ and we all went to the mess to raise a tot to the lads who were ‘still on patrol’.

You see the tomato carried a significant memory for Jack, which he had told me about on passage to the wreck site. He was a communications rating at the time and their mess had a pet tortoise who lived in a boot locker in the mess, and would wander around the mess. Jack was the guy who looked after the tortoise. When the bombs hit, Jack found himself on the Flight Deck as they prepared to abandon ship. He had to be physically stopped from re-entering the ship to rescue the tortoise. It was a key memory for him, and the tomato helped him remember his mates, the good times that they had shared as a ships company and of course the horrors of that day and shipmates who did not come home.

‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’.

Does it matter what helps us remember? Or is the point simply that we should remember? This verse from John Ch 15 v 13 is often quoted on Remembrance day: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’. Of course as Christians we relate this to Jesus and his ultimate sacrifice for all of us. We remember Jesus in all sorts of ways, for example by taking communion or in the symbol of the cross. But in the end its not bread or wine or the symbol of the cross that gives us peace and hope for our eternal future it’s the selfless sacrifice of Jesus and faith in Him that is what we need, not the symbols.

So on this 100th anniversary of the end of the carnage of WW1, as you pause to think about a family member, friend, or just the millons killed in war and conflict over the years … don’t get hung up on the symbol but look beyond it to the sacrifice. I know Jack wasn’t hung up on a tomato … but it helped him remember.

Image Credit: Marten Bjork