Poppies and their meaning

Baroness Murphy

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.

20 comments for “Poppies and their meaning

  1. 08/11/2010 at 10:33 am

    Perhaps the red poppy should remain a symbol of remembrance of people lost in the two World Wars. Those who wish to show their support for troops in Afghanistan should wear a different sort of poppy so as to remember what it’s all about:

  2. 08/11/2010 at 10:38 am

    I do think the ubiquity of the poppy, especially in the media, and the slight one-upmanship about being first, or having the best poppy is a bit childish.

    Certainly I can’t understand the alleged demands from news media that anyone appearing on-screen MUST wear a poppy. Surely the whole damn point of wars against fascism and dictatorship was to protect the right to make a free choice about such issues?

    That said, I visited a Royal Navy frigate at the weekend and suddenly realised I didn’t have a poppy yet so detoured to make sure I had one before the visit – as I would have been a bit embarrassed to be seen on a military site without one.

    But at least it wasn’t mandatory to wear a poppy before you were allowed to go on board.

    As to glorifying war – that I just cannot even begin to understand. Is remembering the deaths of those caught up in the various terrorist attacks in the UK a glorification of terrorism? I doubt anyone would support that view, yet there seems a lot who would argue that remembering the dead of war seeks to glorify it.

    I have little patience for such blinkered opinions.

  3. Carl.H
    08/11/2010 at 10:42 am

    “drum roll of support for current wars”

    Not a drum roll of support for current wars but support for our boys who actually don`t have a choice where and when our Government sends them to be killed and maimed.

    These are ordinary boys and girls from OUR towns and cities put in ever increasing dangerous situations by Governments who decide where, when and how many without a clue how to run a military operation.

    It`s about support for the maimed and the killed who died for freedom of speech that allows you to question all, freely and openly. It`s about our friends, our Fathers, Brothers, Sisters who have risked all for what we have.

    Yes perhaps some take poppy wearing too far and it becomes a slightly comic strip, blown out of proportion affair and to some not respected as it should be, but rather that than forgotten altogether.

    The wearing of a poppy does not suggest support of current military action, it does suggest support for the people that put themselves at risk in our name. Underfunded, ill-equipped, under-manned, 24 hours a day they do their duty to their utmost ability despite politicians.

    The 16 million that died in the first great war didn`t do so because they liked or disliked Archduke Ferdinand. They did it for their friends, their towns, their homes, families, squads, companies not for a political purpose. The poppy represents them and their sacrifice for us not for Government.

    People I think understand more now that the sacrifice is unquestionable sacrifice. Our forces, the lads and lasses on the frontline, don`t question the politics, they don`t ask why, they sacrifice themselves in our name bravely and heroically.

    Support for our boys and girls in the services does not mean support for our Government agenda.

  4. Senex
    08/11/2010 at 12:31 pm

    What is an irony is just where people point their poppy leaf; should it be at 11 o’clock? People seem to point it anywhere, which could suggest that they have little knowledge about why the poppy is worn at all. This confusion is also a reminder to us that in the very last minutes people on both sides were still dying because they never got the message.

    Much is made of those that died but little focus is given to those that had to carry on living. They suffered terrible injuries both mental and physical. I sometimes resent the words chosen by Rudyard Kipling that appear on the Cenotaph that say “The Glorious Dead”. The dead are gone and no longer have to suffer the pain of the living survivors.

    The other thing we forget is that the European German war was not two wars but a single war with an interlude. Many on both sides felt that the armistice was wrong and that it should have been pursued to the point of surrender. One such bastard was born to an Austrian Maria Anna Schicklgruber. He grew up to be a corporal in the army and resented the ‘diktat’ forced upon Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. Later as a political prisoner he writes down his obscene prejudices in a book called ‘Mein Kampf’ where he dedicates his life to the eradication of the shame that the Treaty of Versailles represented.

    The Treaty of Versailles is a political victory of passion over reason. Now the Taliban grow their poppies coloured by the blood of yet another victory of political passion over reason. The only winners in war are the glorious dead?

    Ref: Why was the Treaty of Versailles unpopular in Germany?

  5. Croft
    08/11/2010 at 2:35 pm

    “In parliament there are trays of them everywhere so you can’t escape.”

    Is it too much to expect MPs/Peers to buy their own poppies?

    As to strictly it did look odd – though no less odd that the BBC where guests seem to be jumped by poppy pinning staff as soon as they get within 20 yards of a camera!

  6. Gareth Howell
    08/11/2010 at 5:08 pm

    Is the Poppy Appeal a “drum roll of support for current wars”

    My new wife is regrettably chairman of a BL branch, so I have had cause recently to investigate the charitable causes of the British Legion in reality.

    I would say that going by the number of BL branches which are sold on the open market by the BL Pall Mall without reference to the branch supporters that it is a corrupt organisation.(There are ways of running down a branch to facilitate the sale which take some beating)

    The coop was similar in the 1950s when T’co was making all the running in Supermarket sales and openings. T’co got done for corruption but because it was a vigorous commercial organisation, overcame the accusations.

    The Coop did not and some Coop councillors were locked up for their efforts, in straddling the planning development/council elected membership horse.

    It is my opinion that the British Legion whilst earning £38m per year on poppy sales alone, earns every bit as much by developing their local branches for property purposes.

    The potential for corruption is every bit as great as it was for the coop in the 1950s.

    Curiously enough they had about 2000 branches.

    Amateur wages(boot money in amateur sporting terms)takes the form of good pay backs at the time of property development, which may be quite common.

    It may also take the form of untaxed (again amateur)cash emoluments for those who do the club a favour in weekly terms.

    This is not amateurism in the sense of A charity worker seeing his life’s work as being amateur, or low waged. That is quite different and may apply across the range of non-mamagement/management charities, ie from those which are run for the sake of the Management to those which are run for the sake of the cause.

    In my opinion BL is run for the management, and not for the cause other than the one that the noble and very learned Baroness describes above.

    My own mother was 7 at the end of the great war too; my late aunt 24. Auntie was born in 1892, and had some interesting stories to tell.

    I see that the moderator may be slightly worried about the content of this post but it is fair comment about a management driven charity.

    Bob Geldorf was very distressed at the damage done to his charity Bandaid by extensive negative comment on the alleged arms dealing which the charitable funds went to. He has effectively dealt with those negative comments.

    I would be very interested to read the business accounts of the Legion regarding each and every property development they have done over the last few years and who the business partners may have been for those redevelopments.

    I very much doubt whether they are available, and would be shrouded in the usual masonic cloud, if they were.

    • Hansard Society
      Beccy Allen
      09/11/2010 at 10:29 am

      Gareth all charities are obliged to log their annual financial reports with the charity commission http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/ you should be able to find details of income and outgoings for each year…

      • Carl.H
        09/11/2010 at 10:44 pm

        Having had dealings with the Charities Commission, it in my opinion does not scrutinise accounts in any depth nor does it have any teeth when things are amiss.

        In evidence to Nominet from the Charity Commission website I proved an allegation of fraud by a Trustee, infact Treasurer at that time. See 7.19 of pdf document on link.


        Forwarding this along with other evidence of alleged wrong doing by this Charity to the Commission they did nothing. The Commission has no teeth and tends to believe everything it is given by said Charities.

        This case is no longer in any legal system in anyway, I produce it just to show awareness in my opinion of the lack of good administration by the Charity Commission.

  7. Chris K
    08/11/2010 at 6:38 pm

    The only person on the BBC who seems not to be forced to wear a poppy is the sign language bloke.

    I suppose the BBC, as a supposedly impartial institution, needs to have one rule for everyone about wearing them. Although I do dislike seeing them before the start of November.

  8. ladytizzy
    08/11/2010 at 7:23 pm

    The survivors of the two World Wars, either civil or military, certainly did not, nor do want, their experiences to be forgotten. As the original intention was to remember those who gave their lives in WW1, with WW2 being an adjunct, it would seem appropriate that the convention now is for the nation to remember all those who died in service.

    Alexandra Rose’s (four pink petals with a yellow centre) were once as de rigeur for the lapel but have long disappeared (though the charity has not: http://www.alexandrarosecharities.org.uk/about.aspx ). The poppy survived, just, due to the Falklands war.

    Does the size of poppy, or the length of display, matter as much as its poignancy?

  9. Baroness Murphy
    Baroness Murphy
    09/11/2010 at 8:19 am

    I agree with many of the comments here. Croft, everyone in parliament does have to buy their own poppy you’ll be pleased to know. The trays have collection boxes in it. Jonathan, curiously enough I was in a shop in Sheringham in Norfolk last weekend which was selling mauve coloured poppies for the animals killed or maimed in war. Since presumably not many old war horses are still alive I did wonder who might be benefitting from the sale. But it would be rather odd if we had different colours for Korea,
    Falklands, Iraq etc wouldn’t it? After all as Senex points out it’s the living casualties of war who need the money raised. IanVisits I’m with your points. Carl H I think we have to remember that the current professional army are all self selected and know exactly what they are joining the forces for. This is a very different scenario from the First World war volunteers swept away by propaganda and good advertising and different again from the later conscripts and the conscripts of the second world war who had no choice. But I agree with you I wouldn’t want to lose the Poppy Appeal altogether; I just want it to return to a single day, or perhaps two of real reflection and remembrance.

  10. Carl.H
    09/11/2010 at 9:42 am

    “The current professional army are all self selected and know exactly what they are joining the forces for.”

    I have to disagree with this, it`s one thing to sit at home imagining war and being a hero, another being part of the reality. If they knew exactly what they were getting into I don`t expect we`d see so much PTSD.

    There are still area`s of our Country where people make a choice of a career in the Services rather than crime.

  11. Mac
    09/11/2010 at 9:54 am

    I don’t wear a poppy out of respect for my grandfather who served in the Great War with the Black Watch.

    People should remember that the first poppy appeals were to raise money for injured officers and not the men.

    That was too much for my grandfather and many fellow soldiers who felt that they had not only been betrayed by the officer corp during the war but also by the politicians after the war. Indeed he recalled that when he was demobbed he was given only 20 Woodbine for serving King and country.

    My father was proud to have served with the Black Watch, but he did not wear a poppy nor attend any services or ceremonials for Armistice Day. He remembered his family, his friends, his comrades who never came back in his own way.

    It takes a special kind of bravery to go over the top. It also takes a special kind of bravery not to give in to the social pressures to conform to others’ symbolism.

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      14/11/2010 at 8:49 pm

      I honestly did not know this.

      I’m not doubting you for a second when I ask this, but is there any more information out there on this? I’d be very interested in learning more.

  12. 09/11/2010 at 1:57 pm

    Baroness Murphy: the red poppy’s significance in memory of those lost in the Great War was that it grew on the battlefields in northern France. The opium poppy’s relevance to Afghanistan should be obvious. I don’t know what sort of poppies, if any, grow in Korea or the Falkland Islands, so I certainly wouldn’t advocate different coloured poppies for different wars, animals or anything else.

  13. Carl.H
    11/11/2010 at 6:20 pm

    I noticed the Noble Baroness Murphy in debate on Mental Health bring up the link between smoking and mental illness. I wonder, since the Deputy PM`s disclosure of his addiction and his complete reverse concerning Tuition Fees, if the Noble Baroness maybe suggesting a connection there ?

  14. Tory boy
    12/11/2010 at 10:42 am

    Baroness Murphy,

    I do think the wearing of poppies is important it symbolizes that we are a caring and thoughtful nation. I do think however that those who hold public office or who have been given a title or peerage, when in a public place should wear a poppy. It does not sit well in my eyes Baroness Murphy when you have a question in the House of Lords as you do on Wednesday and you did not wear a poppy. I think it looks thoughtless if you ask me.

    The Camera never lies! http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_lords/newsid_9171000/9171565.stm

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      14/11/2010 at 8:50 pm

      As an exercise in complete point missing, I have to give this comment an A+ triple Gold Star.

  15. mcduff@beta57.com
    14/11/2010 at 9:01 pm


    I’m in full support of observing the armistice and remembrances, but I choose not to wear a poppy. This is at least a little to do with the “smug faced crowds with kindling eye” who make up such an unfortunately vocal part of our society. There is such a rush to judgement if anybody should be seen in public without a poppy, by jackals in the press who I very much doubt give much thought to the meaning behind it as much as they can use it to slur someone for insufficient patriotism, that the whole thing is really rather tainted for me.

    I do not, I have to say, like that it is tainted. I would much prefer to live in a purer and more innocent time when I could take a poppy in exchange for my pound in the tin without feeling like I am in some way giving in to the craven oafs whose sound and fury signify nothing, but that’s how it is I’m afraid.

    But I still stand by the memorial at 11am every cold November, and I don’t know where the loud mouths are then.

  16. baronessmurphy
    18/11/2010 at 5:03 pm

    Tory Boy, see McDuff.
    I did wear a poppy on Armistice Day, 11th November.

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