Over the last month or two I had come across the occasional mention of white poppies being promoted as a pacifist statement at Remembrance, and I wondered if those running schools might be engulfed in one of those storms where they become the battleground for other people’s struggles (it happens!).
I thought it had all gone quiet on that front, so I was surprised to read, on Voice of the North, Julian Cole taking author and Yorkshire Post columnist GP Taylor to task for inveighing against teaching unions for “forcing” on children white poppies on the PC grounds that red poppies are nationalistic, glorify violence and risk upsetting the Japanese or the Germans – the latter surely disproved by the fact that (I believe, though I was stuck on a train and didn’t see it) both English and German footballers wore poppies in Friday’s international.
Taylor claims the white poppies are promoted by the Peace Pledge Union, an organisation that (he says) insists that wearing a red poppy honours only British soldiers and, in a pretty vitriolic piece which seems to stem from his overhearing a mother unable to explain adequately to her child what Whitby’s Bombardment Memorial represents, continues:
This snowflake generation look at those who made the ultimate sacrifice as savages who died for nothing. They are strung out on their guilt trip about their ancestry, wishing they could rewrite history into some kind of utopian multi-culturalism. They see pageantry as being part of colonialism and the Cenotaph as a legitimate target for vandalism.
Now, since we still enjoy free speech in this country, people can say what they like about Remembrance, what it represents, and how we should mark it, or not – though I’d prefer it if people didn’t give offence. But I don’t see some great wave of anti-Remembrance sentiment gathering momentum. Nor have I read or heard of evidence of any such organised campaigning.
Indeed, over the last twenty years or so, I reckon support for Remembrance has gained and retained strength. Thirty years ago schools and businesses didn’t stop work at 11am on 11th November, though poppies would have been readily on sale: now they do. Last Friday Mrs Trafford found herself on a train at 11am, and the guard proclaimed that there would be no announcement at the next station and requested passengers to remain silent.
I was doing a bit of work in a school in the North-West and witnessed all 1400 students aged 4 to 18 line up for a thoughtful and moving twenty-minute ceremony. Nowadays it would be unthinkable in the overwhelming majority of schools not to mark Remembrance formally.
On Saturday and Sunday I helped wheel my Dad (96, and still President of his British Legion branch in the tiny city of Wells, Somerset) around four separate ceremonies. In the market square on Saturday, the police briefly closed the road, stallholders fell silent and passers-by and shoppers paused as the ancient Cathedral rang out the eleven chimes.
Nor were the events the preserve of the old, even if they keep insisting that Dad, now a little reluctantly, proclaims They shall grown not old… Sunday’s more formal ceremonies saw young cadets from schools and communities alike, scouts, guides, cub, beavers and all, lining up and playing their part. The local Cathedral School provided drummers to lead the parade and march-past, and I would guess that such activity was mirrored in towns and cities across the country. So I see few grounds for Mr Taylor’s ire, and much to be proud of. The young are not being brainwashed into rejecting Remembrance: they’re too savvy for that, in any case.
I won’t choose to wear a white poppy: but, like Julian Cole, if some want to do so and make a point about humanity’s hopeless failure to make the Great War the war to end all wars, and remind each other – and our leaders – of the need to actively promote peace, I see no reason to object. And I won’t dub them snowflakes, using the word as a term of abuse in that context.
“Snowflakes” were thin on the ground this year, after all. But maybe it wouldn’t hurt us to hear some voices not merely honouring heroism and sacrifice, but at the same time loudly deploring war, violence and oppression and pledging our determination to put an end to them. Indeed, if white poppies give rise to a healthy debate, why should we complain? It’s silence (apart from those two minutes’-worth) that does the damage.