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Poppy Day

My grandmother taught me many things with her stories. This is about just one of them.

This special day is the closest I will ever get to meeting my grandpa, it's my chance to say hello and goodbye all at once. Mum is holding my hand and I hold my sister's, and the three of us stand back to let Gran whisper a few quiet and private words of remembrance. Those words are all she has to make up for a whole lifetime, a lifetime cut short on this desolate field in France.

This isn't the France I remember from holidays, on this day it's cold and miserable and sad. But this is grandpa's home now, he's with his friends and not far away lay his enemies. What was it all for? Was it really worth all the pain and the suffering?

I'm just a little girl, I don't much about the war but I know I hate Germans now. I want Gran to hate them too but she won't. I don't understand that. It was all their fault wasn't it? Why should they be resting here? They should be somewhere else, not laying here close by my grandpa.

We walk past the German graves on the way out, I can hardly bear to look at them. The chances are the one who shot my grandpa is here and I shiver with cold at the thought.

"They were all so young," says Gran, sounding as sorry for them as she does about her lost husband.

"They killed grandpa," I remind her.

I say those words with venom and spite. I want Gran to speak out against them, to say something cruel to avenge grandpa and his family. But she doesn't, instead she tells us a little story, a story to teach us forgiveness and help drive away all the hate.

Gran tells us of how during the war she worked at Avro, a place where they made bomber planes to fly over Germany and blow it all to bits. A lot of women worked there, each doing what they could for the war and to help with the killing. Avro was a top target for the Luftwaffe to destroy, and Gran and her colleagues lived in constant fear of being bombed.

One rest day Gran and her friends went to a park for a picnic, and as they chatted and joked a plane came flying very low towards them. It was a German plane and it was in trouble, its engines were smoking and it kept coming ever closer as it struggled to get home.

"It was so close we could see the pilot," she tells us.

Gran pauses for a while, she wants our minds to paint a picture of this crazy situation. A scene of a group of helpless young women with an enemy plane heading their way, a plane flown by a monster set on destroying them.

"There was no chance to run," Gran says, building up the tension like she always does when telling her stories.

"Did he try and shoot you?" I ask her.

"No," she replies, "he waved at us, and so we all waved back."

Oh. That wasn't what I was expecting and already I know how I want this little story to end. I want to hear that the killing machine crashed and was destroyed, but I also want to be told that the pilot survived. I want him to live all because of his one simple act of humanity.

But he didn't survive. He died with all his crew a few minutes later.

"I stopped hating so much after that," Gran tells us.

No further explanation is required, so when Gran gives me her poppy I know what she wants me to do. Until this moment her poppy has just been for grandpa, now her little paper flower is for all of them, it's her offering for peace and reconciliation.

So I kneel to place the poppy on the grave of a German, a young soldier who died fighting grandpa. I know it's what grandpa would have wanted, because when I place the red flower my new found hatred dies too.

steffanie xxx

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