Poppy-cock

Lest we forget?  Actually, we’d all do well to remember what the poppy was intended to symbolise.  Not least the FA, the heir to the throne and the Prime Minister.

In case you missed it, the English FA took umbrage at FIFA’s refusal to allow England players to wear shirts embroidered with the poppy during their friendly match against Spain on Saturday.  FIFA cited its rule of banning the wearing of political, religious or commercial messages on shirts during international games.

Cue tabloid outrage, an intercession by Prince William, President of the English FA and an exchange at Prime Minister’s Question Time today, during which David Cameron claimed that “this seems outrageous, the idea that wearing a poppy to remember those who have given their lives for our freedom is a political act is absurd. Wearing a poppy is an act of huge respect and national pride.”

Clearly the irony of his intervention – and others – on the matter making it a political act and therefore bringing it well within the bounds of FIFA’s rule was lost on a Prime Minister, whose subtext was also highly political.  Who is this Johnny Foreigner trying to prevent we Brits from honouring our war dead?  What, after all would continental Europeans know of the loss of life “for our freedom”?

Despite FIFA making concessions – the Home Nations would be wearing poppies on training tops, a poppy wreath would be laid on the centre circle by the English FA before the match and a minute’s silence would be held before kick-off – it was not considered enough.   Cave in or else.  So they did.  Hurrah!  Another victory for the freedom-loving home nations then, over the faceless bureaucrats who try to control our lives from far away lands.

So plenty of heat then;  time for a little light.

The whole thing has been a disgrace and shows just how far we have travelled from the origins of the Flanders Field Poppy.

This was not a British construct, but an American one.  In 1918, just before the first ever Armistice, a young American woman, Moina Michael, read the war poem by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae – a Canadian, by the way – and was transfixed by the last verse:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

She promised at that moment to keep the faith – inspired by her religious upbringing to see it as a spiritual symbol – and started a campaign to have the Flanders Field Poppy adopted as the symbol of remembrance.  And it was.

First by the American Legion in 1920, next by Canada in summer 1921 and then by Britain in November that year.  Before this, Moina Michael, expanded the scope of her campaign to not only have the poppy recognised as a symbol of remembrance, but also as a way of raising awareness of the needs of all veterans and their families, particularly those who had returned from World War One disabled and traumatised.

Her campaign was taken up by a young French woman, Anna Guerin, who saw its charitable potential through the making of artificial poppies by French women, children and war veterans for sale to Americans as a way of raising money in particular, for orphaned French children who were suffering terribly after the war.  Millions of these French-made artificial poppies were sold in the USA between 1920 and 1924.

And it was she who brought the concept to Britain and to Field Marshal Earl Douglas Haig, the founder and President of the Royal British Legion.   He was persuaded to adopt the poppy as the Legion’s symbol and the first ever British Poppy Day Appeal was held in November 1921, with the proceeds raised from the sale of the French-made poppies given to ex-servicemen in need of welfare and support.

Haig saw the potential in establishing a poppy making facility in England, founding the Legion’s first factory in 1922, with one in Scotland being set up in 1926.  By then, the poppy had also been adopted by Australia and New Zealand.

Illuminating isn’t it, that the Flanders Field Poppy is not British in origin and has distinct religious and spiritual origins.  Moreover, its adoption has always had commercial intent, albeit with charitable purpose.  It is also instructive to recall that it was adopted, not only as a symbol of remembrance for the war dead, but also as a way of encouraging people not to forget the needs of the returned and those left behind to cope with the impact of World War One.  What it is not – as the FA claimed in this stushie – is a symbol of the armed forces.

Wearing a poppy on Armistice Day is not an act of “national pride”.  For David Cameron to suggest it as such is to reveal how little he understands its intent.

How and when the poppy is worn is only a symbol of the act of remembering itself.  And to tarnish the symbolism of the Flanders Field poppy by a tawdry territorial spat between footballing authorities is to diminish that very act of remembrance.  For all those who died and suffered as a result of World War One, and in all the wars since.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “Poppy-cock

  1. Miss Michael in the United States was not young. What she reacted at the Y meeting in New York in early November 1918 was an advertisement placed in the LHJ by Bauer and Black surgical supply co. illustrated by Philip Lyford, showing bandaged doughboys rising to heaven – not quite the imagery of British subject Dr. McCrae of the Canadian Expeditionary Force ! Everyone literate knew IFF by then, people were composing Replies, even words set to music by Sousa. The title and the information about McCrae are inaccurate…happily this all had no effect on Canada accepting the poppy and idea of a replica for marking graves, for ceremonial wreaths, and for lapel wear, backed by women’s groups and tag days, before handing over to the veterans’ groups as they sought to work together.
    Mme Guerin was the woman who came to us, reading old Toronto newspapers, getting great support for her orphanage too. Wife a justice in France, enough influence to contact
    VIPs as well as the WIs IODE, Canadian Clubs…

    • We of the Dominion of Canada were “British subjects” from the time you kicked the French out until after serving in your overseas wars (3 in first half of 20th century)
      until 1947 on January 1, ‘Canadian Citizen’ was created.

  2. Last week I saw some of the SNP MSPs had badges on compromising a Scotland flag overlayed with a red poppy. Are those who were wearing these just remembering the Scottish soldiers that fell? Genuine question.

    I think the SNP hierarchy should also have a word with certain MSPs for their slandering of troops in the past, “economic conscripts” etc. and the way they want the Union flag brought down from Edinburgh Castle, which is still a British military HQ.

  3. If the money goes to help lads and lassies who have been sent into battle by politicians and have suffered injury then I’ll quite happily buy a poppy.

    As far as wearing them on football shirts goes, it reduces the whole thing to the level of Pudsey bear and bunches of flowers beside the road or the railway line.

    A kind of mass hysteria and grief inclusion.

  4. …and they wonder why nobody votes for them to host the World Cup?

    To see ourselves as others see us…..

  5. You must remember that the original poppy appeals were to raise funds for the officer corp and not the other ranks.

    My grandfather fought in the Great War and relates a story of going over the top with his mates as a battalion but coming back only as a company.

    He never forgave Butcher Haig and the other generals, and never ever wore a poppy. This was not remembrance as he saw it, this was the state taking over and controlling public grief done by the same people that sent millions to their deaths. Many of his ex-army mates felt and did exactly the same.

    It is utterly ridiculus that young footballers are being forced to wear poppies when it is a matter of indiviudal choice.

    You can remember the fallen with diginity and good grace as my grandfather did every year without people being paraded wearing poppies.

    What we have today is Poppy Facism, it is not remembrance.

  6. Well said.

  7. No intention of buying or wearing one as they don’t justify the sheer waste of human life, political prostitution.

  8. I agree that the entire debate has got out of hand. That said I would highlight that the poppy appeal is now not about just about Remembrance but also the work that Poppyscotland performs each year that helps veterans of current and recent conflicts. I sometimes feel that this current activity is lost in the overall debate.

  9. Kate, the whole poppy ‘debate’ has become pretty tasteless. This was my Facebook update last night and I stick by every word…

    As I was taught in school, you wore a poppy in remembrance of those who died in WWI & WWII. In the latter, young men fought to defeat the evils of fascism. Today, it is despicable how the poppy is manipulated in some quarters for a show of imperialism, sectarianism or xenophobia. It’s there as a mark of respect to those who died in war – not as a symbol for an agenda or identity. Remember that please.

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