Thinking allowed — 11 November 2010


remembrance-poppy1The origins of the Poppy Factory go back to 1922 when Major George Howson MC, a young infantry officer and engineer who served on the Western Front in the First World War, founded the Disabled Society to help disabled ex-Service men and women. Howson suggested to the British Legion that Society members should make poppies, and the artificial flowers were designed so that someone who had lost the use of a hand could assemble them with one hand.

With a grant of just £2,000 from the Unity Relief Fund, he set up a small factory off the Old Kent Road with five ex-Servicemen. It was here that the first poppies were made. Within a few months the number of employees had risen to 50, providing work and an income for many disabled veterans and their families. As demand grew, the premises became too small and the Factory moved to Richmond, Surrey, near to the present Factory which was built in 1933.

Wear your poppy with pride is the message, and we do; well, most of us. The rest, that is their choice. They have their reasons. You may not agree, but this is freedom. Think about what the poppy represents and it is liberty, above all, that previous generations fought for.

Remove choice and poppies lose all meaning, becoming just another formality, like pulling on a pair of trousers in the morning. Nobody claims to be wearing their trousers with solemnity or a particular sense of patriotic pride. It is just what we do, a convention.

The poppy should have greater resonance than that. It should be more than an accessory, thoughtlessly jammed into a lapel or checked for like a mundane, functional item: keys, wallet, mobile phone, poppy.

As ever, this country is at its best when it is being quietly decent, when it is not beating people around the head with its patriotism.

In America, there are so many star-spangled banners flying on every lawn and shopping mall that all impact has been lost. They use Old Glory to support the troops; they use it to sell you a Chrysler. Many are imported anyway. The year after the 9/11 attack, the United States imported $7.9m of flags from China and some had 53 stars.

Our poppy is different. Wearing it means you have taken some time to think about what the people of this country stood for, and what they were prepared to endure to preserve our freedom. For that reason, it should never become something we just put on, like an old pair of jeans, or a new replica football shirt.

So wear your poppy with pride this week and reflect of the quotation from Cecil Rhodes, “Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life”.

It is because we keep remembering the men and women who have given their lives for us that we can share our common heritage, freedom and values.

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