The Liverpool Echo is marking Remembrance Day and the arrival of the poppies at St George’s Hall with a question to its readers; why do you wear a poppy?
For something that is such a public display, wearing a poppy at this time of year is a deeply personal act. There are lots of reasons why people wear them. There are probably even more reasons why people do not. Poppy fascism – as Jon Snow famously called it – is deeply unedifying. No-one should feel pressured to wear a poppy to meet the expectations of others or to avoid being labelled unpatriotic;. But, back in the real world, they do. Witness the sea of poppies in the House of Commons, especially on the lapels of recent additions to the front bench. Witness the social media outrage aimed at Sienna Miller for not donning the red flower on the Graham Norton Show. Witness the disgusted looks thrown in your direction on the tube at this time of year if your poppy is absent or hiding under your jacket.
The poppy carries with it lots of political baggage, not least in the north of Ireland. It is seen by some as a symbol of blood. A supporter of war. A sign of aggression. Like all important things, it raises passions and divides opinions. It does not belong to one point of view or one group, despite being “owned” by the Royal British Legion. It is a loved and loathed in equal measure.
Ok, time to answer the Echo’s question. I wear a poppy for two reasons. To remember. To hope.
I remember my Grandar, John Harrison. He fought in the Second World War and then faced into the worse that humanity has ever stooped to at the end of the war as part of the units who liberated Bergen Belsen. He and his colleagues saw things that no-one should have to see. They gave those who survived a second chance to live and those who had died a dignified end after the unspeakable suffering they had endured. It is too easy to talk about sacrifices and how much we owe a debt to that generation but take a few seconds to think about what it must have been like to pick up the bones and body parts of young children, women and men, discarded like landfill in mass graves and individually bury them. Imagine having to do this by hand. Imagine doing this for days and days on end.
My Granddad could never forget what he saw and what he had to do. He remembered that for the rest of his life. The very least I can do is to put a coin in a box once a year and place a small plastic flower on my jacket and think about him.
After remembering, I hope. I hope that what he went through and the commitment his generation made to those who followed would endure. I hope we will live up to their lead. No more war. No more genocide. No more savagery. Sadly, no such luck, but we should never stop hoping. In its Charter, The United Nations, perfectly summed up this commitment in words that always leave me feeling inspired; “We the peoples of the United Nations…..determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.”
My poppy wearing is not for others. It’s not to fit in. It’s for me. For hope. For John.