Tag Archives: armistice

Poppy Prejudice

As I’ve read comments about Remembrance Day today I’ve wondered if there’s a note of inverted snobbery in some. It led me to thinking about my own attitude. I’m not talking about the arguments over whether war is glorified in the process of remembrance. That’s a fair debate to have and I agree with those people with an eye on the anniversary of the start of World War One next year who argue that it shouldn’t be romanticised (to me, Rupert Brookes’ poetry should only see the light of day in classrooms accompanied by the commentary that he never saw action in the trenches) or full of patriotic hyperbole (by the way if you’ve never seen Oh What a Lovely War, do watch it – it really is brilliant).

I suppose my thoughts have more to do with poppy wearers than poppy wearing – the people in the public eye who wear them. For the first time today I paid attention to people’s lapels and chests in the supermarket (most of the time they could be in a grizzly bear costume and I wouldn’t notice) and saw how few were wearing poppies. And yet if you put the tv on you can’t escape them. There’s something off about seeing poppies on everybody who comes within 50 feet of a tv camera. Although I haven’t been watching Strictly this year, I assume their glittery poppies are back – those things really piss me off. When every single tv presenter seems to be wearing a poppy but relatively few people are in my (admittedly unscientific and tiny) experiment, I do think it’s fair to suggest there could be an element of corporate compulsion behind poppy wearing. We don’t know unless people are actually asked what they really think (although now it’s in my head I’ll probably Google it to see if there’s anything out there on it) but if that does go on it makes a sham of the act of remembrance.*

There’s that but there’s also the politicians and various other people who grace our screens in the run up to Remembrance Day. I have to ask myself: is the faint lip curl of disgust when I see some people wearing poppies fair? Is it even rational? I grimaced at the sight of energy bosses wearing poppies. For many people wearing a poppy has personal resonance. If the narrative in my head which accompanies that grimace is “like they care” is that fair? Or am I letting my own prejudices get the better of me? For all I know the energy bosses have all been remembering their families today (I hesitate to limit it to men because my grandma was a Wren). If I cast the energy bosses as bogeymen who couldn’t possibly care about remembrance just because they’re willing to defend price rise after price rise, am I guilty of inverted snobbery? I think I am and I don’t like myself much for it. Although it’s not unreasonable to suggest that wearing a poppy has become the done thing in some circles, we should be careful not to let our feelings about entirely separate issues get in the way. On a day which is about remembering I’m reminded not to think of people as two dimensional.

* it’s been pointed out to me that the kind of people who write to Points of View would hit the roof if tv stopped wearing poppies. He’s probably right. That’s just a different kind of compulsion but it’s a fair point.

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Fields of Poppies

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.

“The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est”

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.