White poppies have been around since the 1930s and are a symbol of peace. The Guardian’s running a poll to see who wears white and who wears red. I wear red. As far as I know the proceeds of sale of white poppies don’t go to the Royal British Legion and that’s where I want the money to go. I understand some people wanting to wear white and don’t have a problem with white poppies but, for me, red poppies don’t glorify war. They’re just an act of remembrance. From time to time there’ll be people who want to twist the meaning of any symbol but I’d rather carry on doing what seems right to me regardless.
There’s a different kind of poppy I want to mention though because I have a stronger opinion on it. A couple of years ago I heard about purple poppies for the first time. The idea is to remember animals caught up in our wars such as horses and sniffer dogs (ships cats were still around during at least World War One too). I agree we should be conscious that our actions have consequences affecting animals, although when it comes to wars governments have enough trouble recognising that human lives have value. What I’m not happy to do is to donate to Animal Aid by buying a poppy from them. If the money directly helped animals in warzones, I might feel differently. I agree with many of Animal Aid’s campaigns but the fact that they’re a campaign and lobbying group makes it seem inappropriate for them to get involved in Remembrance Day somehow and I can’t shake the sense that someone saw Remembrance Day as a money spinner. I’ve never bought a purple poppy and I don’t intend to.
To me, Remembrance Day is about reflection and recognition of human sacrifice. It’s about millions who died in every affected country during the two world wars (military and civilian) and the survivors, who lived through times my generation can’t begin to imagine. It’s about people who’ve served in Afghanistan and Iraq and died or were injured and I hope poppy donations help to make up for the help the Government fails to give. I believe we were wrong to go into either country but that’s not a judgement on the troops.
Remembrance Day isn’t about governments and it’s not a day for lobbying. It’s always been about the horror of war and the hope of peace. Red poppies and silence speak volumes.
8 November 2013
There was an excellent Comment piece by Harry Leslie Smith in the Guardian today, a man born in the same year as my grandparents as it happens. He shares his feelings, in particular on the risk that the Government’s plans to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One are likely to airbrush the realities of what life was like at home for most of the people who ended up fighting to create a more acceptable picture of history.
If Big Ben tolled every second starting on 28 July 2014 to mark every casualty in World War One it would stop just 43 days short of the anniversary of the armistice on 11 November 2018 by my calculation. 37 million dead and injured and that doesn’t even begin to cover all the people whose lives were affected.