Since when did the Poppy Appeal become obligatory?


This weekend, an ill-advised teen was arrested for posting a photo of a burning poppy on Facebook. It wasn’t very nice, and it was likely to piss people off, but in my opinion it wasn’t worthy (even slightly!) of an arrest. But I’m not going to start that debate again. What I am going to do, instead, is talk about Remembrance Sunday, the Poppy Appeal, and the dictation of socially acceptable opinions.

Firstly, my opinion on Remembrance Sunday. I like the idea of the day, and I think in many ways it is important that people remember the great sacrifices that have occurred in the past. I hope that, mainly, it will allow people to understand that war isn’t nice, isn’t pleasant, and causes a lot of pain and loss. I hope that as well as respecting those that were conscripted, Remembrance Sunday could potentially produce a generation of people who don’t want a war, and who may (and here I get far too optimistic) breed a country less likely to have to get involved in them – at least on a “World War” scale. I don’t attend the Remembrance ceremonies – 1) because I’m not remotely patriotic and being in the presence of so much of it makes me uncomfortable and 2) because I don’t really do public ceremonies for things like this. I’ll spare a thought about it, and then I’ll move on.

Then there is the Poppy Appeal, and here’s where I get controversial – I don’t really like it. I don’t mind a jot if other people choose to support it, and I am not against the appeal at all – it just makes me uneasy. Firstly, I am a naive pacifist, and I have preferred charities above and beyond those that support our current armed forces. Again, nothing against the people who support them – it’s just not my cup of tea. Then there is the vitriol of the campaigners. Aside from this year, when no one at all has tried to sell me a poppy (where did they go?!), I normally have poppies quite violently thrust at me, and upon refusing often am greeted with comments, complaints, and really active insistence.  Whatever the charity, whatever the cause, cut that out immediately.

So, I have a personal preference for other charities and choose not to participate in the Poppy Appeal for personal and political reasons. Nothing unheard of there.

However, I am always surprised by how vocally and passionately this simple personal choice is taken. On Sunday, I posted the harmless Facebook post “The joys of everyone else being off poppying… your choice of seats in Wetherspoons!”. I received a comment “Shocking”, and an instant de-friending. God only knows why! In other years, I’ve encountered anger, swearing and a huge amount of negativity, often without even expressing an opinion on the matter. It seems that this is one issue on which you are expect to participate, in which you are expected to believe.

So, the question is this… when did the Poppy Appeal become something you HAD to participate in? Why is this in particular so capable of boiling people’s blood? Since when have I not been allowed to quietly have my own views?

Has anyone else experienced similar?

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  • Amber

    I’ve never experienced aggressive poppy-thrusting or anything like that, and I do think it’s very important that we remember the sacrifices people have made: I’m also a pacifist, and not remotely patriotic, but my grandad served in the war, and joining the armed forces is an act of bravery/selflessness that I can’t even begin to comprehend, so I’m all for taking some time to remember the terrible things that have happened in wartime, not to mention how extremely lucky we are not to have to experience those things ourselves, thanks to the generations of people who sacrificed so much for us.

    All of that said, I was really disappointed and put off by some of the comments I read on Twitter on Sunday, where people were being absolutely lambasted for daring to mention Christmas shopping, or what they were having for lunch, or basically ANYTHING that wasn’t directly related to remembrance. (And I’m not talking about people tweeting during the two-minute silence, just people using Twitter as they usual would, long before the silence started) I really got the impression that a lot of people were just using it as excuse to humble-brag about what good, self-righteous citizens they are, and to get virtual pats on the the back for being such great examples to us all. It was all just very holier-than-thou, and seemed to be more about showing off than actually remembering the people who have died, and it annoyed me so much I shut down tweetdeck, lest I say something I would have regretted.

    (I should probably add that I did observe the silence, we buy poppies every year, and, as I said above, I do think it’s important that it be marked in some way. But I also went out for afternoon tea and did some shopping at Ikea, which presumably means I’m going to hell because, according to some of the commentary I was seeing on Twitter, I should have spent the whole day solemnly remembering the dead.)

    • Lauren Cooke

      I completely agree – I think it’s important to take a moment to think about it, but am generally of the opinion that self-reflection on the topic is just as important as attending a ceremony. It strikes me as strange that so many people get so very prescriptive about what you should feel, say, and do in order to mark the day, when many other events on the calendar are left up to individual interpretation!

      Also worth mentioning that my FB update wasn’t during the silence – it was pretty much an hour later!

  • Amber

    Oh God, sorry for the wall of text – I had no idea I had rambled on for so long!

  • Alex

    I’ll try not to ramble too much, but it is an interesting subject!

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve suffered so much aggro over the years simply due to your opposition to poppies. Personally I’ve never seen anything like that before, but people can get over emotional on subjects like this.

    I have noticed the poppy culture has grown a lot in recent years, most likely due to the significant losses in Afghanistan since the mid-2000s. It has perhaps gone a little over the top for what is supposed to be an annual act of solemn remembrance.

    I can see why your facebook post could provoke a little annoyance (although de-friending is a total over-reaction). In some people’s eyes it might sound a little superior. (I hope you’ll forgive any implied criticism on my part!) However, we all post things we later regret on social networking sites, I sometimes think I should have a 30 minute time delay on all my tweets so I can change my mind.

    I personally always buy a poppy, but if I’m honest a remembrance service usually seems like a bit of an effort on a cold Sunday morning. I do make sure I observe the 2 minute silence and I always find the contemplation helpful.

    I’m not entirely sure I understand the logic of a pacifist objecting to the poppy, surely a pacifist would want to remember the dead of war even more than everyone else? The poppy is a useful reminder of the cost of war, if anything it should be the symbol of the pacifist movement.

    Whilst I don’t really understand your objection to wearing a poppy, I fully defend your right to choose not to! Those who died in past wars, particularly in WWII, did so so we could live in a free society.

    On a separate note I’m glad to see you still blogging! I’ve always enjoyed your writing and I feared you were going the same way as several other bloggers I (used to) read.

    • Lauren Cooke

      Hmm, I hadn’t thought that it would appear smug – more just an observation that other people out means I can sit down. I suppose it was one of hose smug updates, but not really malicious – just acknowledging that I was doing something different. If people are that grumpy about the fact that they weren’t at the pub, that’s easy to resolve – there’s generally a spoons within easy reach 😉

      As for the poppy objection, I don’t object to the symbolism of the poppy itself, much as I explained how I actually respect remembrance day (I just choose to observe it in a less public way). However, I choose not to buy a poppy because the money raised for the poppy appeal goes towards the serving forces, and I’d rather give my money to non-military causes – and I do, so it’s not just hypocrisy!

      Hopefully I’ll be blogging for a while to come – I just never seem to have the time to make it nice and regular, like!