Each year, in the lead up to Remembrance Day on 11 November, you’ll see volunteers for the Royal British Legion in high streets up and down the country offering little red paper poppies in return for your spare change.
The poppy symbol, inspired by the 1915 poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by Canadian doctor Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, is ubiquitous; at this time of year, you can’t really go anywhere without seeing it.
And with millions of poppies sold over the decades, the Royal British Legion charity has been able to look after countless serving and ex-servicemen and women, and their dependants, who are in need.
But what if you don’t want to wear a red poppy? What if you don’t feel like taking part in poppy one-upmanship or you have political or personal reasons for doing your own thing?
Well, according to the poppy charity itself, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to take part.
“Wearing a poppy is a personal choice and reflects individual and personal memories,” the charity says on its website. “It is not compulsory but is greatly appreciated by those it helps – our beneficiaries: those currently serving in our Armed Forces, veterans, and their families and dependants.”
Meanwhile, some people choose to wear white poppies, distributed by the Peace Pledge Union, to symbolise a remembrance for victims of war and a commitment to peace.
Explaining the meaning of the white poppy, the Peace Pledge Union says:
“In wearing white poppies, we remember all those killed in war, all those wounded in body or mind, the millions who have been made sick or homeless by war and the families and communities torn apart. We also remember those killed or imprisoned for refusing to fight and for resisting war.
“We want to remember British military dead, but they are not the only victims of war. We also remember the many civilians who have died or suffered in war, both those from the past and those in the midst of war today, in Syria and Yemen and many other violent conflicts around the world. Suffering does not stop at national borders, and nor should remembrance.”
And even though the white poppy design dates back to 1933, there is always controversy about whether they are an appropriate symbol to be worn around Remembrance Day.
This year it was the turn of Conservative MP Johnny Mercer to voice this predictable outrage, when he tweeted: “White poppies are attention seeking rubbish.”
In truth, the money raised by selling white poppies is donated to charities and campaigns supporting victims of war.
In the past, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has worn both red and white poppies – and some people deliberately choose to wear no poppy at all.
Unlike most footballers, for example, Stoke City’s James McClean doesn’t wear a poppy - requesting a different shirt without the emblem ‘predesigned’ into it.
The 29-year-old is originally from Derry, where in 1972 British soldiers shot dead 13 civilian protestors during the infamous ‘Bloody Sunday’.
In 2015, he explained, in his previous club West Brom’s matchday programme:
“People say I am being disrespectful but don’t ask why I choose not to wear it. If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I’d wear it without a problem.
“I would wear it every day of the year if that was the thing but it doesn’t. It stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in. Because of the history where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that.”
Despite this reasoned stance, he continues to receive criticism, both from supporters of opposition clubs, as well as some of his own club’s supporters.
Similarly, Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic isn’t wearing a poppy because it reminds him too much of when his village was bombed when he was 12 during the Kosovo War.
And ITV newsreader Charlene White has explained why she chooses not to wear a poppy on air, saying: “I support and am patron of a number of charities, and due to impartiality rules, I am not allowed to visually support them all whilst presenting news programmes.
“That includes things like a red ribbon for World Aids Day, or a purple band for Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.
“Both these and many more charities do great things in the UK, but I’m not allowed to give them exposure on screen.
“So I feel uncomfortable supporting just one charity above all others, namely The Royal British Legion, but I fully support my colleagues who do choose to wear the poppy on screen.”
So if you choose to donate to the Royal British Legion by buying a poppy or instead plump for a white poppy or wear no poppy at all – it’s all good. And if you ever feel like voicing your poppy opinions to someone else, perhaps consider keeping it to yourself.
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(Images: Alyssa Stevenson on Unsplash / Getty)