gistofthegrist

one-off at the wrist

Lest we forget?

History On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the First World War ended. Civilians wanted to remember the people who had given their lives for peace and freedom. An American War Secretary, Moina Michael, inspired by John McCrae’s poem In Flanders’ Fields began selling poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-Service community. And so the tradition began.

Poppy Factory In 1922 Major George Howson, a young infantry officer, formed the Disabled Society to help disabled ex-Service men and women from the First World War. Howson suggested to the Legion that members of the Disabled Society could make poppies, and the Poppy Factory was subsequently founded in Richmond in 1922. The original poppy was designed so that workers with a disability could easily assemble it and this principle remains today.

Although set up originally to acknowledge the contributions made by those that died in the service of their country during WWI, this ‘wearing of poppies’ annual act of remembrance has expanded to include remembering those that have died in all conflicts since 1918. But is this act of remembrance losing its purpose?

I was very puzzled this week to realise that I couldn’t find any poppies on sale in my local post office, library, doctor’s surgery, supermarket, pub … all the ‘public’ places I might have thought it would be very easy to find them. Even more shocking was walking through the huge Westfield, Stratford shopping centre [I must have passed 1,000 people in 5 minutes] and noticing only ONE poppy wearer [very easy to spot given everyone is in Winter black clothes] and one red clothing brand logo on a left lapel that I mistook at first for a poppy, even though it is now only a couple of days before Remembrance Sunday.

Arguably the vast majority of people alive today will either have no immediate connection to anyone that served in either of the World Wars, or perhaps being from countries not directly involved, will see little point in this contemplative act [being too busy in their daily lives to even mark the two minute silence on Remembrance Sunday].

Would the 100th anniversary of the ending of WWI therefore be a fitting time to stop this commemorative practice? Or is this poppy wearing period of respect which culminates in the wreath lying, silence observing, gun salute customs to become a preserve of a handful of [predominantly white] old folk and ‘point scoring’ politicians?

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