Every year many people struggle with the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Day campaign: should they or shouldn’t they wear a poppy?

The problem isn’t about remembering the selfless sacrifice made by so many British servicemen and their families in the Second World War, it’s about an unease with what British servicemen and women are being asked to do today.

As a way of remembering the sacrifice made by so many ordinary people in the Second World War and the impact this had on ordinary lives, I re-post below a brief recollection of my Uncle Lennie. I hope that it says enough:

Lennie (Leonard Allen) was the brother of my grandad, Ernie.

I didn’t know Lennie too well as he had moved away from the immediate vicinity of Bermondsey before I was born. He lived in Morden which to me as a child, was a million miles away from the flats. Nowadays I realise that it’s merely the end of the Bakerloo Line of the London Underground (which isn’t, just in case you didn’t know, not a million miles away from Bermondsey).

Lennie was always treated with respect in our family because he had been a prisoner of war, held by the Japanese in Burma. More importantly, this was because Lennie had also been severely tortured by the Japanese army. The story goes that when Lennie came back from fighting in the Far East after the end of the Second World War, no-one in the family recognised him due to the amount of weight that he had lost. Despite the fact that he never spoke openly about the torture that he underwent, from the day he returned from Burma until the day he died, he never took his shirt off (due to the scars that he had on his body), and he refused to watch any films or tv programmes about war: any war. He also never attended or participated in any Remembrance Day events and because of this, I have always struggled as to whether or not I should wear a poppy.

Two things I remember about Lennie and his house in Morden. The first is that I loved the ‘mouse in a brandy glass’ ornament he had and which were popular in the 1970s. And second, he was the only person I knew in that had a real sheepskin rug. When i visited him I must have been no more than about 7 or 8, I remember laying on the rug and falling asleep, so content and warm was the experience.

Lennie died some time in the 1980s with very few of us having seen him in his last years.

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