POPPY DAY

POPPY SELLER , 1982

POPPY SELLER , 1982

This is the town war memorial outside the church in St Mary’s Street, Bungay,  just across the road from the Golden Fleece pub. The church of St Mary’s is now redundant, but when I was a schoolboy it was still in regular use and I attended the annual service we had there. The whole school would proceed there in a crocodile, taking the path past the castle. In this view that I sketched there are autumn leaves blowing along the street, and a man is selling poppies next to the war memorial. A policeman is passing along his beat, and he stops to buy a poppy. This slice of typical English life was captured on a scrap of paper in 1982.

Thoughts of war were particularly raw in that year of the Falklands conflict. Out of the 28,000 who took part, 253 members of the British armed forces died. 581 wounded personnel were evacuated to the ship Uganda, which was pressed into service as a hospital ship, having been doing educational cruises since 1967. This ship was built in 1952, originally for the East Africa destinations, calling at Gibraltar, Naples, Port Said, Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam. She was converted from educational cruises at an impressive speed at Gibraltar for use in the Falklands conflict.. She was already sailing south as the finishing touches were being made.

The Argentine Junta made a catastrophic misjudgement in supposing Britain was too weak both in arms and in bottle to retake the Falkland Islands. A few years before they might well have been successful in their attempt, but they did not then realise the mettle of the lady prime minister; to be perfectly honest neither did we, her electorate. Things were going pretty disastrously wrong in Britain at the time. VAT had been increased by a huge margin and manufacturing industry was being decimated. I was feeling the pain along with many others;  the increase in VAT had more or less killed my business, which had been doing rather well, stone dead. I had made the decision I was never going to vote for Margaret Thatcher again. Then came the invasion of British sovereign territory, and Mrs T’s steely determination to retake the islands. Needless to say I voted for her (not literally of course, but for her party) for as long as she was a candidate. I truly believe she would never have won a second term without victory in war. It is sad that such a triumph came at such a cost in lives.

The nature of the threat to peace has changed over the years, but since the Second World there has scarcely been a year when servicemen have not lost their lives in defending the country. Korea, Suez, the numerous actions in Africa and the Far East that accompanied the end of Empire, the long period of trouble in Northern Ireland, the outbreaks in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Falklands have all cost British lives. It is right for us to remember once a year at least.

What was I doing in Bungay on the 13th November 1982? In that year my sister Margaret had  begun to work looking after the boarders at All Hallows School in Ditchingham. She had been given some time off and I was taking her back to work. We had a drink at the Horse and Groom (now called the Green Dragon) in Broad Street and walked Fido on the common. Work was just beginning on the new by-pass along the old railway line, and we went to have a look. It was a cool but bright day.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA

 

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