poppy_squareThe annual debate about the controversial white poppy won’t go away will it.

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….

John McCrae

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.


10 responses to this post.

  1. I used to be one of those people who refused to wear a red poppy, mainly because I felt it had become associated with the far right. I’ve lived outside the UK since then and only just returned. Maybe I am getting old or my perspective changed from being away, but I wore my poppy this year, not with pride, but with a sense of humility and sadness.


  2. Hi Debra,

    Yes, I recognise what you are saying. In spite of the “wear your poppy with pride” slogan, I don’t think pride really reflects the meaning, but I guess its an individual and personal thing.


  3. Hey ders, thanks for those you tubes. I love Brothers in Arms – haven’t listened to it in ages. Beautiful:

    These mist covered mountains
    Are a home now for me
    But my home is the lowlands
    And always will be
    Some day you’ll return to
    Your valleys and your farms
    And you’ll no longer burn
    To be brothers in arms

    Through these fields of destruction
    Baptisms of fire
    I’ve witnessed your suffering
    As the battles raged higher
    And though they did hurt me so bad
    In the fear and alarm
    You did not desert me
    My brothers in arms

    There’s so many different worlds
    So many different suns
    And we have just one world
    But we live in different ones

    Now the suns gone to hell
    And the moons riding high
    Let me bid you farewell
    Every man has to die
    But its written in the starlight
    And every line in your palm
    We’re fools to make war
    On our brothers in arms


  4. Posted by Shulamit Day Berlevtov on November 12, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Video of white poppy wreath-laying at Ottawa War Memorial, Nov. 11, 2008

    White peace poppies originated in 1933, when the Co-operative Women’s Guild produced the first white poppies to be worn on Armistice Day (later called Remembrance Day). The idea for a white poppy arose from the concerns of the wives, mothers, sisters and lovers of the men who had died and been injured in World War One. Increasingly aware of the likelihood of another war, they chose this symbol “as a pledge to Peace that war must not happen again.” See the Peace Pledge Union website: http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/index.html.

    For info about Ottawa white poppy events, contact Brenda Vellino brenda_carr(at)carleton.ca or Ian Harvey at mmediamaniac(at)yahoo.com.


  5. Shulamit, thanks for your explanation. EP, some people may be confusing the meaning of the white poppy with the meaning of the white feather, which was given out to men not at the front. The giver of the feather believed their intended target for the feather was avoiding taking part and therefore in their eyes was a coward.


  6. Yes, thanks Shulamit, That’s very interesting and helpful.

    Matt, you may be right. I hadn’t heard about the white feather before now and yes, perhaps some people have been confusing the two.


  7. Posted by laura on November 8, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I think that this brings up very good points. What both poppies symbolizes is very important. However I think that it can be taken the wrong way by some people. For example in my high school there was a kid who started debating with me how soldiers were murderers and should stay out of other countries like Afghanistan, and just basically bad mouthing soldiers – and being from a military background I know many people who have been deployed to Afghanistan and injured or killed. Again I think that both are important together but it can be very easy for people to confuse, or use the symbolisms against each other.


  8. Hi Laura. Thanks for your views.

    Getting involved in other countries is a complicated and emotive issue and there doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong answer but it’s insensitive and lazy to blame the soldiers when in fact it’s the leaders who are wholly responsible.


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