For many people, the use of the white poppy is at best disrespectful and at worst, it’s nothing less than an insult to the memory of those who died fighting for our country. Well I think it’s sad to see a gesture of peace come under such harsh judgement and cause such conflict and disharmony between people when really, it’s very message symbolises unity and peace.
Admittedly, my knowledge of the history of the two poppies is limited. My nine-year-old son had to remind me that the red poppy is worn because it was the only flower to persist and thrive on the battle fields. He has to read a sentence in assembly today at school and so, in the words of a child . . . we wear a poppy to remember and say thanks to all the people who died fighting in the war.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below….
Needless to say, the war was truly awful. To think about all those innocent and naive young lads called up to fight against an evil that was as incomprehensible as it was wrong, is beyond words. There are many anti-war poems that speak the language of futility – poems by Wilfred Owen who was himself killed in the war just before it ended. I’m thinking in particular of the graphically powerful Dulce Decorum Est and also, Insensibility which tackles the psychological effects of war and which is probably, in my opinion, his greatest poem. But none are so heartbreakingly expressive as the words from his Anthem for Doomed Youth which laments for those young boys, barely men, doomed to die for reasons beyond anyone’s comprehension. I honestly cannot read these words without a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes:
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Anyway, back to the poppies, I’m not sure where and when the white poppy emerged but it’s not hard to work out that it’s conception would have come about from a group of people whose intentions were to seek peace, not war. Now I don’t know about you folks but I’m finding it hard to see how that can be interpreted as disrespecting the war dead. Remember that the Great War, of which Remembrance day is all about, was the war to end all wars, so how is it disrespectful to wear a white poppy which basically asks that we try to do just that – end all wars?
I have a friend who won’t wear a red poppy because she feels that it has come to symbolise war itself. I can honestly appreciate that but personally, I fully comply with the act of remembrance devoted to the people who died in the war, in all the wars in fact. And if wearing a red poppy is symbolic of this, I will wear a red poppy but I will, without shame, place a white poppy beside it. No-one wants to go around offending all the war veterans by the colour of poppy they choose to wear or indeed by not wearing one at all. It’s a personal choice. The red poppy remembers those who died in service and the white poppy asks that no-one should die again in war. Wear one or wear the other. Or unite the two. Or wear none at all. It’s up to you.
But it certainly shouldn’t be political. It should be about those who horrifically lost their lives for reasons beyond understanding and beyond belief. And it should be about trying to make it so that they didn’t die in vain.