It's that time of year again. Out into the cold they tread, men and women, medals pinned to their chests. They jangle a tin of coins and present a box of poppies.
The poppy as a symbol of remembrance originated in 1918. Inspired by the war poem 'In Flanders Field' by John McCrae, US Professor Moina Michaels promised to always wear a poppy for those who served in the war. And so it goes...
Sadly, the Poppy Appeal has bought much debate in recent years. Last year Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow refused to wear a poppy on air, stating that it should be a personal choice, not a political force. 2009 proves no different. In The Independent yesterday, Mark Steel asked, 'why should I be pressured into wearing a poppy?' He argued that the selling of the famous red flower was a government conspiracy; a ploy to ensure we keep on fighting. Even pubs and libraries have jumped on the 'poppy fascist' bandwagon by refusing to sell them.
I am disgusted.
They are missing the point by a country mile. The wearing of a poppy is not just about remembering those who have lost lives fighting for the freedom of our country. It's not just about the past. It's about hope and support for our future. To turn the poppy into a political symbol is outrageous and extremely naive.
The Royal British Legion use money raised in the Poppy Appeal to help provide financial, social and emotional support for those who have served and continue to serve in our Armed Forces. By actively refusing to wear a poppy, we are implying that these needs are not valid; that our forces are not important; that we just don't care. In times such as these; how is that right?
When my Nan passed away a month ago, we found a poppy amidst her belongings. Stuck to a small wooden cross, underneath she had written, 'To us you were the world.' This for my Granddad who died in the RAF in 1944. It represented his memory, her pride in his duty served. A tiny red symbol of her loss. Our loss. She kept that for sixty-five years. Political? I think not.
Just like my Nan, I keep a poppy. Every November I buy a new one and I wear it with pride. Not just for my Granddad but for all the Granddad's. Uncle's. Brother's. Friend's.
In the big scheme of things, it isn't difficult to pin a small red flower to your lapel. For one week, one day out of a year, that's all it takes to show some respect. Forget the political ramifications, the debate, and the conspiracy theories. Remember the dead, the injured, the families left behind. That's what the poppy really stands for.