Bernard Porter’s latest blog - on the subject of poppies and remembrance - caught my attention today. He sums up what poppies are meant to mean, and by and large I agree with his view that they are not some sort of triumphalist, militaristic symbol – although it needs to be said that for some that point will be missed, not least I suspect in the upper reaches of an establishment that wishes to conceal many skeletons in its cupboard.
Back in the 70s, when I was in the RAF I refused to buy a poppy, even though they were sold by the (formidable) Station Warrant Officer’s wife. My objection then was that the black plastic centre bore the inscription ‘Haig Fund’ and my limited understanding at that time of the First World War led me to believe that Haig, and a sizable chunk of his class callously treated their troops as a cheap disposable commodity. I also objected to the idea that the human cost of war – and in particular a war which should have been avoided – seemed to be considered a matter of charity, rather than something to be paid for by the state. Indeed, it is still the case that too many ex-service people are left with trauma, physical and mental, which our government seems oblivious to.
During the noughties, and particularly after the 2003 Iraq war, public attendance at remembrance services rocketed and I wonder if after the Iraq debacle politicians learnt a lesson, making them somewhat more wary of going gung-ho into new conflicts. On this I suspect Jeremy Corbyn is firmly in tune with public opinion. There are still, of course, MPs on both sides who would send ‘our boys’ into any situation if it gave them the thrill of looking decisive. I would hope that the poppy could act as a symbol of rebuke to such jingoistic hubris. And the words ‘Haig Fund’ were dropped years ago.