Why I wear a poppy

And so as November comes around, the well-worn arguments about poppies arise from certain quarters so I thought I would put out there why I wear one. And, in my view, I think most people have something similar in mind.

Every year as I wear my poppy, I remember in particular the first world war in which three of my relatives participated. They were all volunteers – one might debate whether they were misguided, but for what ever reason, they felt they had to go.
My Grandfather was a career soldier so one imagines he approached this war in the same way he had all the others he had been involved in. I never met him but I did know he survived the war and eventually joined the Police when he left the army. I have his medals and they show he soldiered in many battles from the Punjab to South Africa. It is uncomfortable for me to see that the majority of these were in the creation or defence of Empire. But that was what the country wanted its soldiers to do in those days.

I also had two Great Uncles who joined the army as Privates in that war. One managed to rise to the rank of Serjeant (yes, for some reason they spelled it with a ‘j’ in the Medical Corps). The other joined the Seaforth Highlanders. Both were killed in action within a few weeks of each other in 1915 – one on the Western Front in the aftermath of Neuve Chapell, the other at Gallipoli.

To me the real tragedy is that this is actually a very ordinary story because almost everyone in Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Turkey etc etc has a similar story. I wear the poppy to remember them, their families and their friends. Especially that my Great Uncles barely made it into their twenties – who knows what lives they could have had?

It is absurd to infer what my poppy shows that I thought any particular war was just. And it has nothing to do with nationalism or even patriotism. If anything, the opposite.

3 thoughts on “Why I wear a poppy”

  1. I’m sure, though, given your professional field, that you understand the nature and power of symbol. Poppies of the kind worn around November 11th are symbols. Symbols are multi-layered and don’t have intrinsic meanings other than those attributed to them by individuals, groups and often (in organisations and political regimes) by those with the power to grant or withhold a particular status should anyone display – or not display – a symbol publicly. I have absolutely no problem if you wear a poppy but the wearing of it does not simply say “I am honouring dead soldiers”. Conversely, the non-wearing of a poppy does not simply say “I am dishonouring dead soldiers”. It is a logical categorical error but one that is often made – and it is an error supported by some very powerful interest groups on both sides that gives us the Poppy ‘in’ and ‘out’ group psychology that. I suspect, may have influenced your posting the declaration.

    Very best wishes and thank you for this thought-provoking post

    Dave Griffiths (ex-Birkbeck Occ Psych; now retired from HE teaching but still proud of being a Birkbeck alumnus)

    1. We all have incidents in our nation’s histories that we are proud of and otherwise. But personal losses have a special sentiment that must be respected within the family institution and why not.

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