Why I Wear a Poppy

The wearing of a poppy has been a tradition in our family for as long as anyone can remember. From my Grandma selling poppies outside the local shops, right up to the present day, no member of my family could ever imagine not wearing a poppy to mark Remembrance Day. And there is, it seems, a widespread resurgence of poppy wearing among both young and old.

And yet, this was not always the case. During my schooldays in the 1970s and 1980s the wearing of a poppy in early November became distinctly unfashionable. That's not to say countless people didn't do it, it was just something about which many people were quite vocal in their criticism. When I was in the Sixth Form I was one of a small group who volunteered to sell poppies at break times, and who went round the classrooms with our collecting tins. Just about everyone bought one and wore it happily. But there were those, some of my friends amongst them, who either refused on the grounds it was 'glorifying' war or insisted on Tipp-exing it white as a 'peace protest'. As someone who had always worn a poppy without question but who also always believed that conflict should be the very last resort to solve a problem, this gave me pause for thought. Was I glorifying war? If not, why did other people think I was? I knew that no-one I knew wore a poppy to glorify anything, only to remember, but as to the second question. I had no answer. But now I think I do.

When I was a schoolgirl, with the exception of the Falklands War and the Troubles in Northern Ireland, both of which were relatively self-contained and, in the case of the former, short-lived, it was very rare for any member of the British armed forces to lose their life in the service of our country. And increasingly the remembrance services and therefore the Poppy Appeal seemed to be the preserve of our grandparents' generation. It was lines of old gentlemen that proudly marched past the Cenotaph in Whitehall and even older men that raised the most applause at the Festival of Remembrance. Young men and women, those of our own generation, seemed to have little to do with it at all.

But the Gulf War, and the more recent wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, have changed all that. I know people my own age who have served there. I know people whose loved ones have been wounded and, in one case, killed. I see young men, some as young as my friends' children, horribly wounded and whose primary fight is now against the enemy of their own bodies' limitations. As harsh as it is, when an old man walks with sticks or has lost a limb or an eye, we seem to accept it as inevitable. When a young man is similarly afflicted we are shocked to the core. Because he could be our brother, our boyfriend, our best friend, or even ourselves. And this is now the case for so many of us, that we can no longer imagine war as anything to glorify. But more importantly, we now have a much greater understanding of the needs of our soldiers, sailors and airmen. And, therefore, a realisation that we need the Poppy Appeal to make sure those who have served have a steady and sound future. Because, no matter what the cause of our wars, or the territories in which they are fought, or the level of technology in our weapons or the weapons used against our troops, one thing about war has never changed. It's largely the young men, at the very start of their adult lives, who fight to preserve the future of their countrymen and women. A future many of them will not live to see.

So, you see, when I wear a poppy I do it for those we have lost and, yes, for those who fought for our freedoms and our protection. But mostly I do it because it is a way to support, both financially and visibly, those who need our help now. And if one thing is certain in this life, those young people who have given so much for their compatriots will not be the last generation to be called to arms.