Poppies

Since I moved to the UK when I was 11, every year around the end of October I bought a paper poppy from an ex-serviceman. I always liked the symbolism of wearing a flower to remember those that died in the Great War and subsequent wars. This year was the same, I bought a poppy and duly pinned it to my jumper.The other day when I was at a French language exchange a French girl asked me what the poppy meant. I explained that it was a symbol of remembrance for those who had died in WWI and WWII. However, an Australian guy that was sitting next to us intervened and said it wasn’t just about remembering the fallen, and that the poppy also signified a tacit agreement with war. He believed because the British army is not conscription then it is up to the particular soldier to understand that they will probably die if they go to war and that we should not pay to support them if they are disabled or injured. He also said that wearing the poppy glorified war and violence. He also said that it was a symbol of British nationalism. He told us about young men he knew that just joined the army because they wanted to go to war, fight and kill, regardless of the ideology behind the war.

To be perfectly honest, Miss W had never really thought about that. I always wore the poppy because I wanted to commemorate the people that had died for the idea of freedom and democracy. I studied WWI poetry when I was at school and I remember reading about very young guys who signed up because they really believed in . For me the poppy also makes me think of those in the International Brigades; foreigners who went to fight against Fascism during the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. These people were not dying in trenches because as a simple act of bravado. Maybe some were, but I think there was a genuine feeling that they were fighting for the freedom of their country.

Poppies commemorate Armistice day, which was constituted by King George V in 1919 to commemorate the 11th of November 1918, when the armistice was signed in Compeigne in France. The poppy became a symbol of WW1 thanks to the lines of poetry by John McCrae a Canadian army officer. He wrote the poem during the Second Battle of Ypres, the day after he buried his friend. He had noticed the way poppies bloomed around the graves and included the observation in his poem, which was written from the viewpoint of the dead soldiers.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row 

Miss W had written a whole really long blog post and the gods of the internet decided to only save half of it and upload an incomplete post… so the rest is lost. Right now Miss W is angry and cannot continue writing, so she will have to go and calm down and come back to this post at another point, although she doubts she will achieve the utter brilliance of the former post.

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One thought on “Poppies

  1. In the USA there really is no equivalent expression like the poppy flower. It’s interesting that the soldiers in the USA are given more respect but there is not a national gesture of that respect and remembrance as there is in Britain.

    The US army is also not a conscription army and I think some politicians would like to take the stance that your acquaintance did – if you volunteer for service you should not expect anything in return. It’s true that soldiers do enjoy a number of perks, but I think it’s window-dressing. What returning soldiers really need is proper healthcare and mental health treatment, two things much lacking in the USA. I’ve met soldiers and heard stories of people waiting years for approval for a surgery that is required due to a service-connected injury, only to have the surgery denied over a very tiny issue. This often either requires the soldiers to resubmit and go through everything AGAIN, or to try and appeal due to a statue of limitations being up.

    I wonder how Britain handles medical and mental health for its soldiers?

    Like

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