The field poppy is a humble flower; most of us see them as solitary blooms by the roadside. Ironically they thrived better in the desecrated fields of the Great War than with modern farming methods, but most importantly they have no creed or politics. The paper poppies sold every November seem to have remained unchanged forever, easily lost and when they fall apart they are ideal for children to play miniature ice hockey, the black centre the puck and the stem the hockey stick. Anyone who belongs to a craft group has probably knitted or sewn longer lasting flowers, the Royal British legion also sells enamel badges and giant poppies appear on buses and lamp posts.
But the humble flower has become a symbol of political correctness and angst. From mid October onwards nobody is seen on BBC television without a poppy; given how easy it is to lose them or leave them on your other jacket, I always imagine assistant producers hovering with boxes full of poppies at the ready. From politicians to football players, public figures risk on line abuse if they are spotted without a poppy. But there are many people who fear if they wear one it suggests they are against peace; worse still, on Facebook we are paranoid that we might ‘Like’ a picture of a dear old veteran adorned with poppies and later discover it was posted by an extreme right wing group.
It was never intended to be like this.
It started with a field of poppies in 1915 and a poem. For the Great War generation it was the war to end all wars; there was only remembrance and the desire for peace.
In more recent years the last ever episode of Blackadder remains the most poignant reminder.
Our ceremonies at this time of year have veterans at their heart and the men and women of the Royal British Legion preserve the framework for this. But not all veterans are at the forefront. Like wearing a poppy it’s a personal choice; my father, uncles and aunt never belonged to the legion, never wore their medals and never marched a single step after they were demobbed ( except the one who was a scout leader! ). As far as I know they never met up again with RAF and army comrades. For those of us who are not royals or local dignitaries we are likely to go to Remembrance Day ceremonies and marches only if our daughters are in Guides, or sons in the army cadets.
But the two minute silence can be observed by everyone and is most meaningful if you are in a busy airport terminal or railway station; the unusual silence then seems to last an eternity, time enough to think of all the casualties of war in the past one hundred years.
Should you wear a poppy? They are made and sold to raise money to help ex servicemen and for the foreseeable future that support will be needed more than ever. But you can do the British Legion lottery, you can give to other service charities; the person wearing a poppy might have walked straight past a homeless man who is an ex serviceman.
Since 2014 we have been remembering various anniversaries of the first world war and yet the world is further than ever from peace and nobody seems to know the answer, or if they do, nobody is listening to them…