They died for us. Not so we could have Silly Poppy Stories every year

What is it about the white peace poppy symbol that so inflames people?

NOVEMBER IS THE MOST SOLEMN, sombre time of any year; this year – the hundredth since the Great War guns fell silent – more moist-eyed than most.

Sadly, it is also the month that has become known as the Silly Poppy Story Season.

Manchester United’s Serbian star Nemanja Matic has been forced into a social media explanation of his decision not to wear a poppy on his Manchester United shirt. To do so, he wrote on Instagram,  would remind him how NATO bombed his village to drive out Serbian forces from Kosovo when he was 12.   

The Matic message on Instagram

In his statement, Matic said: “I recognise fully why people wear poppies, I totally respect everyone’s right to do so and I have total sympathy for anyone who has lost loved ones due to conflict.

“I do not want to undermine the poppy as a symbol of pride within Britain or offend anyone. This is a personal choice. I hope everyone understands.”

The Royal British Legion understands. A spokesman said: “The decision must be a matter of personal choice”.

But the “uneducated cavemen” among home fans who abused Stoke City’s Ulsterman winger James McClean for not wearing a poppy during a recent game against Middlesbrough showed no such understanding. The Football Association and Stoke are investigating McClean’s social media post  in which he hit back at those supporters.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Johnny Mercer laid into people who wear white poppies as “attention seekers” who should be ignored.

That was the final straw for our York-based columnist JULIAN COLE, who (below) lays into those he calls “upholders of propriety and patriotism”.


REMEMBRANCE FOR ME COMES EVERY YEAR at this time. I have been writing columns long enough to have amassed a file full  of Silly Poppy Stories. Last year’s ran under the headline ‘White or Red We Remember the Dead’ 

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, a tale which originated in the Daily Telegraph.

A year earlier, another poppy row. On that occasion the row was over FIFA forbidding England’s and Scotland’s international footballers to wear ANY poppies when the teams met on Armistice Day.

Still further back, in November 2015, I asked: “When did we get so silly about poppies?” This was a double-header. First, actor Sienna Miller ‘caused offence’ (some said) by forgetting to wear a poppy while exchanging salty, sofa-bound chitchat on the Graham Norton TV show. Poppy row number two involved Northern Irish footballer James McClean, who refused to wear a poppy while then playing for West Brom. At least he’s consistent.

Now we have the cases of the conscientious objection of Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic and Tory MP Johnny Mercer, who laid into people wearing white poppies as “attention seekers” who should be ignored. “If you don’t want to wear a poppy don’t bother,” he says. “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 he is 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 World War One. The white poppy was first worn 12 years later, in 1933, making it almost as old as the red poppy, hardly a product of the so-called snowflake generation.

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

On the BBC website there is a photograph of someone wearing both colours, the white laid above the red. That seems 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 sad;y 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; sensible people who aren’t fuming Tory MPs should be able to see that. As I have written previously, I shall take Remembrance Day to recall my grandfather Bill Cole, who wouldn’t fight but instead carried the injured and 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 for our tomorrows, not so we could  have this silly row every year.


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