Until two years ago, I wore my red poppy without question. It was honouring everyone, including my ancestors, for the battles they had fought and the lives they had lost. I would visit the war memorials that their names are on and take time to reflect. Those who didn’t wear a poppy were disrespectful and ungrateful.
Then I listened to a podcast that changed everything. It stemmed off a quote from Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’, “It’s not ‘lest we forget’, it’s ‘lest we remember’. That’s what all this is about – the memorials, the Cenotaph, the two minutes’ silence. Because there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.”. The whole argument was based on this idea that we had already forgotten about the war. Why else would we have gone to war in Iraq? Or why would we even be courting the idea of ‘Brexit’?
The European Union was created to end the frequent and bloody wars across Europe. It was not about trade deals or laws that are ‘enforced’ upon us. It was about peace. And yet on TV, everyone could see Nigel Farage, champion of Brexit, wearing a poppy; telling us that the Union, created for peace, was actually ruining Britain. Sure, there was peace in Europe – something millions lost their lives for – but is that really enough? Other politicians and TV stars were also wearing the poppy. Each of them sprouting a different view, a different opinion: “I wear a poppy because I think we need our freedom, and that includes freedom from being told what to do by the European Union” or “I wear a poppy to remember all those who died, including those from Europe who we should continue to support and remember”. For me, the message of the poppy became too convoluted and I was left confused.
So I looked into the shades of poppy I could wear. Maybe red wasn’t the colour for me. A white poppy, for example, means you remember those who have lost their lives, but you also preach a commitment to peace. I thought this was a great solution – at least for me. Then it was pointed out to me that peace is all good until someone evil comes along, and the only way to stop them hurting millions is with war. There was a purple poppy, to remember animal victims of the war. Whilst animals did contribute significantly to the war, I felt it was wrong to show my remembrance to them and not to my ancestors. The last is a black poppy, remembering the service of African, Black and Carribean communities who contributed to the War effort. Again, I didn’t want to exclusively remember anyone, I wanted to think of all who helped, who died, who lived.
I told a friend my dilemma and she joked “why not just wear all of them, get your bases covered.” After a long time deliberating I came to a simple conclusion. I won’t wear a poppy. Its true meaning has been lost and forgotten through years of convoluted manipulations. Instead, I will put a donation to all the charities associated with each poppy, because you don’t need a poppy to remember.