November 11th, Armistice Day was always a special day when I was a child because it is my Mother’s birthday. She was 5 when the Great War ended; one of her earliest memories is of her Mother’s joy at the news. We all wore our poppies for just two days, the Saturday of the Poppy Appeal collection and the second time on Remembrance Sunday. Wearing the poppy was an act of remembrance for million of young lives lost but always there was something less welcome underneath, not a glorification of war exactly but a subtle acceptance that the heroism and self sacrifice was to be repeated and supported. Now it seems to me we have become obsessed with the darned poppy for ten days or even longer. In parliament there are trays of them everywhere so you can’t escape. Ladies vie to wear bigger and bigger poppies on their lapels; debates are a sea of poppies for longer than a week. The rather ludicrous sight of contestants this Saturday on Strictly Come Dancing twirling about half naked with enormous poppies affixed to their costumes did make me wonder whether we’d lost the plot.
The Royal British Legion began using the poppy as a symbol for fundraising in the 1920s. Money raised goes to help wounded servicemen past and serving and their families and I acknowledge the continuing need but there are many deserving charities that don’t get this national exposure for such a great length of time.
Is the Poppy Appeal a “drum roll of support for current wars” as some have claimed? There is the sense that if you don’t wear the red poppy, you are not supporting ‘our boys’ out there in Afghanistan. Is the Appeal being used by politicians to support their current military agenda? I’d be interested to hear what you think.