“WHY I WEAR WHITE POPPIES” – LAMBETH’S GREEN PARTY OPPOSITION LEADER

Lambeth council’s Green party opposition leader Cllr Jon Bartley has posted on social media the reasons why he wears a white poppy:

Some people remarked about my white poppy so I thought I’d put a few thoughts down!

I’ve been wearing a white poppy for about 15 years now. I got into quite a bit of trouble in 2006 when I suggested that white poppies should be made available alongside red ones (do google it if you are interested!). But it’s an idea that I didn’t think should be that controversial.

If you believe that people died for our freedom surely that freedom should extend to the way we choose to remember?

Anyway, for those unfamiliar with the history, in the 1920s/30s, women from the co-op movement who had lost fathers, brothers, sons and lovers in WW1 approached The Haig Fund and suggested that the best way to remember and honour their loved ones was to make a commitment to peacemaking. They suggested printing “No More War” on the red poppy. The Hague Fund refused so they produced their own white poppies.

I don’t criticise anyone for wearing a red one. We should each be free to remember in the way we choose.

But I am personally uncomfortable with much of the rhetoric which accompanies the red poppy. My Dad was at Normandy and my uncle was a spitfire pilot. I don’t think either of them believed there was anything “glorious” about the dead. And I think they both believed that many did in fact die in vain.

Unlike the red one, the white one represents remembrance of all those who died – on both “sides” and also civilians, and I personally want to remember everyone, and the terrible tragedy of war.

Because what worries me the most is that the way be remember – and so the meaning and validation we give to previous wars – impacts the decisions we make about going to war today.

In two other posts on social media Cllr Bartley also made the following points:

The women who made the first white poppies suggested that the best way to honour the loved ones they lost was to commit to peace. Imagine what could be achieved if the Government put the same resource into active peacebuilding and conflict prevention as it does into militarism.

Blaming white poppies for the lack of funding for veterans is like blaming peacemakers for the under-resourcing of the Red Cross. Governments should meet their obligations to support those they send to war. Veterans should not have to rely on charity. 

FROM THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION WEBSITE:

YOUR REMEMBRANCE DAY POPPY – A BRIEF HISTORY

The Royal British Legion has no objection to any other colour of Poppy in principle, and some volunteers wear these side by side. However our volunteers should not offer these alongside the traditional red Poppy, as it may cause confusion around the appeal.

The poppy is

A symbol of Remembrance and hope

Worn by millions of people

Red because of the natural colour of field poppies

The poppy is NOT

A symbol of death or a sign of support for war

A reflection of politics or religion

Red to reflect the colour of blood

Wearing a poppy is a personal choice and reflects individual and personal memories. It is not compulsory but is greatly appreciated by those it helps – our beneficiaries: those currently serving in our Armed Forces, veterans, and their families and dependants.

During the First World War (1914–1918) much of the fighting took place in Western Europe. Previously beautiful countryside was blasted, bombed and fought over, again and again. The landscape swiftly turned to fields of mud: bleak and barren scenes where little or nothing could grow.

Bright red Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas) however, were delicate but resilient flowers and grew in their thousands, flourishing even in the middle of chaos and destruction. In May 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields  to write a now famous poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’.

After the First World War, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance.

McCrae’s poem inspired an American academic, Moina Michael, to make and sell red silk poppies which were brought to England by a French woman, Anna Guérin. The (Royal) British Legion, formed in 1921, ordered 9 million of these poppies and sold them on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately and that first ever ‘Poppy Appeal’ raised over £106,000; a considerable amount of money at the time. This was used to help WW1 veterans with employment and housing.

The following year, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory to employ disabled ex-Servicemen. Today, the factory and the Legion’s warehouse in Aylesford produces millions of poppies each year.

The demand for poppies in England was so high that few were reaching Scotland. Earl Haig’s wife established the ‘Lady Haig Poppy Factory’ in Edinburgh in 1926 to produce poppies exclusively for Scotland. Over five million Scottish poppies (which have four petals and no leaf unlike poppies in the rest of the UK) are still made by hand by disabled ex-Servicemen at Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory each year and distributed by our sister charity Poppyscotland. (Editor’s note: Words placed in bold by News From Crystal Palace).

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