“Can you buy me a sticky poppy?”
asked my friend’s son, aged 3.
“The stick on the one my mummy bought me is not sticky anymore, I need another one”.
As I went to pick up his brother from primary school, here were the sticky poppies, in the hallway. He was very cross with me I had no money on me.
A friend of mine went to France last year at this Remembrance time of year, and could not understand why nobody knew about red poppies in Paris. Why should they? It may represent the fields of Flanders in a war to save France in the British mind, it is first and foremost British. The poppy was created to raise money for the Royal British Legion, the self appointed national guardians of the armed forces. The RBL have taken over caring for veterans, soldiers and their families where the British government who decides on wars does not pay for the human scars or consequences.
I’ve been wondering about the red poppy for a few years now. It was explained to me when I moved to London in the 80’s that it was to remember the men who fell during the world wars. Of course I bought a poppy, or a few, every November, at tube stations, in corner shops, remembering the men who had been sent to die so I could live, so I could hopefully marry my Englishman. I am forever grateful that I have two half English, half French sons. What an amazing gift.
As years went on, and younger people starting losing interest in the old wars, we were told the poppy now also stood for the current wars, the veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan. I respect these soldiers, men and women who fight for their country but should anybody dare question these current wars, they get fired at with venom, verbally or from behind a keyboard. Which really proves my point that the paper poppy has intoxicated many a mind, as real poppies do.
The Army, the RBL, governments and media have done a rather good job at convincing countless people that we have no choice but to go to war to protect our country that there are still people who truly believe that the current wars are warranted, even though there are countless soldiers who tell us stories to the contrary. There are 17 year old British teenagers in the army, their barely older brothers being sent to the middle east to fight, and that it is perfectly normal. The Army comes to a school near you to train kids for team spirit and sportsmanship a few times a year, and that’s OK. Where are the doctors, nurses and surgeons to inspire about caring and saving lives?
The current adverts to sell us more poppies are all about faces, people, young men and women, beautiful photography, even a ‘behind the scenes’ of a photoshoot to entice the army of would be photographers. When British people have always known about the red paper poppy, do they ever take time to question why the RBL is the only charity allowed to display their fund raising wares on national television? Have they noticed? None of my friends have when I point it out. Have you ever seen a daffodil for Cancer hospices? A wrist band for the countless charities that fight for our generosity? Children in need doesn’t count, it’s the BBC’s own charity.
Who knows when Conscientious Objectors day is? Do our children know what this means? How often do we see War Child or Veterans for Peace on our taxpayers’ television? Do you think these charities never try for a bit of free PR on television? The RBL being a charity that deals with Army veterans, it stands to reason that they have no problem being sponsored by weapons companies. The Army would not exist without weapons would it? But for civilians, does this not bother you slightly?
The Royal British Legion was created to look after servicemen and women after the Great War. Its second mission was to ‘work actively for peace’. I don’t get the feeling RBL work actively for peace. Every Poppy Day is militarised. Yet wars have always killed, maimed and left indelible scars not only on soldiers, but also on civilians. Lest we forget. As for calling it Poppy Day, as children do, it makes my blood boil. It is Armistice Day. 11 November and 8 May are both bank holidays in France. It is also Remembrance Sunday in the UK.
The day we remember the men and women who died in war, soldiers and civilians is not, and should never be, Poppy Day. It is Armistice Day, the day the war that was to end all wars ended.
As for Conscientious Objectors Day? It’s the 15th May. Look out for it on your BBC next year.