Oh no, it’s the annual silly row about poppies red and white

It’s silly poppy story season again for upholders of propriety and patriotism.

This blog has been going long enough now to have a file of silly poppy stories. Last year’s remembrance blog ran on November 8 under the headline “What’s so funny about peace, love and white poppies?”

It was inspired by the Whitby author GP Taylor stirring up a poppy palaver in a column for the Yorkshire Post.

“Remembrance,” he wrote or possibly fumed, “is increasingly being seen as a glorification of violence, tinged with the toxic aroma of ardent nationalism.”

He then had a pop at the “snowflake generation”, calling on that unpleasant insult to young people, and complained that teachers were forcing white poppies on children. This turned out to be a reference to a story in the Daily Telegraph. That tale had alleged that the Peace Pledge Union, which promotes white poppies, had signed up 100 teachers who belong to the National Union of Teachers.

Wind back a year, and on November 3 we had: “Another year, another poppy row.”

That poppy row was about a ban on footballers wearing poppies. Fifa had decreed that English and Scottish players could not wear poppies when the teams met on Armistice Day.

Put the clocks back another year to November 3 2015, and this blog ran with “When did we get so silly about poppies?”

This was a double-header. First up, actor Sienna Miller caused so-called offence by forgetting to wear a poppy while exchanging salty sofa-bound chitchat on the Graham Norton show.

And poppy row number two was another footballer row. For variety’s sake, this time it was about a player who didn’t want to wear a poppy. The Northern Irish footballer James McClean refused to wear a poppy on his shirt while playing for West Brom.

This year’s model is a tweet from the Tory MP Johnny Mercer. Last week he laid into people who wear white poppies as “attention seekers” who should be ignored. “If you don’t want to wear a poppy don’t bother; they fought and died so you could choose. But don’t deliberately hijack its symbolism for your own ends.”

Oh, here we go again. Another believer in respect behaving in a disrespectful manner while believing they are doing the proper thing.

What is it about white poppies that gets some people so aerated? Red poppies were first worn in 1921 to remember those who fought and died in the First World War. The white poppy was first worn 12 years later, in 1933, making it almost as old as the red poppy – and hardly a product of the so-called snowflake generation.

Both poppies remember those who served and those who fell. That should be enough to bring on a moment of thoughtful retrospection – not yet another by-numbers rant from a military-minded Tory MP.

On the BBC website there is a photograph of someone wearing both colours of poppy, the white one laid above the red. That seems to be an appropriate matching of the two: respectful of those we lost, and respectful too of the idea that no one should die in wars (a good hope, but, sadly, a hopeless one).

On the website of the Peace Pledge Union, Symon Hill dismisses the idea that his organisation is hijacking anything. “White poppies were founded in 1933 by women who had lost loved ones in World War One and who felt that the red poppy was moving away from the original message of ‘never again’.”

Both poppies are a symbol of respect, and sensible people who aren’t fuming Tory MPs should be able to see that. As has been written here before, I shall take Remembrance Day to recall my grandfather Bill Cole, who wouldn’t fight but instead carried the injured and the dying on stretchers at the Somme.

Private reflection is important; public reflection is important. Seeking out ridiculous stories about supposed lack of respect is in the end the ultimate act of disrespect. They died so you can have this silly row every year. No, we should be better than that, and on the quiet most of us are.


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