How fitting that Remembrance Sunday should fall on November 11th this year. For we recall that it was on this very date, exactly 100 years ago, that Germany finally accepted the terms of the Armistice drafted by the Allies, thus formally bringing the so-called ‘Great War’ to an end. Many local communities have been recalling those difficult years with tributes often featuring period music, the reading of soldiers’ letters home and poetry as well as with religious ceremonies. Yet Remembrance Sunday is not just about remembering the 17-19 million military personnel and civilians who died as a result of that War. It also serves as an opportunity to reflect on those who fell in the Second World War … and in all the many conflicts across the World since 1945.
The Red Poppy has long been associated with Remembrance Day and the background to this connection is most poignant. Scarlet corn poppies grow particularly well in Western Europe where the earth has been disturbed. The otherwise bare land, where some of the fiercest Napoleonic battles had taken place, was apparently covered in blood-red poppies soon afterwards. Again, after the Great War had ended in 1918, people noticed that the Red Poppy was one of very few plants to grow on the barren battlefield sites. In his poem, In Flanders Fields, John McCrae was one of the first to express in print, the idea of the Red Poppy being an appropriate symbol by which to recall the sacrifice of the fallen. In 1921, the Red Poppy was adopted by the Royal British Legion as the symbol for what later became known as the ‘Poppy Appeal’ from which money was used to support the injured and suffering as a result of their service in the British Armed Forces.
One Remembrance Sunday, some years ago now, the local Methodist Minister appeared at a Cornish village War Memorial to lead a Service wearing a White Poppy rather than a red one. Although the Minister apparently did explain the reasoning behind his choice of ‘button-hole’, the incident received a lot of negative feedback at the time and even many years later, was still a talking point on this same Sunday in November, when I was based in that Circuit! So where did the original idea of a White Poppy come from, you may wonder.
Shocked by the devastation to family life caused by the First World War, the idea of pacifists making their own poppies, was prompted by a member of the No More War Movement in 1926. Yet the idea was not pursued at that point. It was in 1933 that the Women’s Co-Operative Guild advocated the wearing of a White Poppy to symbolise their hatred of war and commitment to peace … as well as commemorating the victims of past wars. From 1936, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) took part in the promotion and distribution of the White Poppy with some other anti-war organisations world-wide similarly adopting the White Poppy as their symbol. According to the PPU Website, There are three elements to the meaning of white poppies: they represent remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace and a challenge to attempts to glamorise or celebrate war. So what colour poppy will I be wearing early in this month of November, you may now be wondering.
Although a recent survey claims to have discovered that a third of young people refuse to wear a Red Poppy because it ‘glorifies war’, my view is somewhat different. I’ll be wearing a Red Poppy as a symbol of remembrance and thanksgiving for those [like my own father (WW2) and grandfathers (WW1)] who patriotically served their country bravely in the belief that the invasive evil of greedy, power-hungry tyrants had to be forcefully confronted after previous peace-making attempts had failed.
To those who choose to wear a White Poppy to reflect their sincere desire [and maybe, prayer too] for World Peace, they have my genuine respect. But to those who occasionally suggest [as seen in some Press articles] that a Red Poppy is now a symbol for supporting militarism, nationalism and warfare … I disagree wholeheartedly! Nor do I believe that only White Poppy wearers are those who are anxious for peace in our troubled world.
There is a clear call from Jesus for all his followers to promote peace. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God [Matt. 5: 9]. The really difficult task is to establish just how best to achieve a lasting peace in our homes and families, within our communities and in our country … as well as in the world at large. Yet as far as Remembrance Sunday is concerned for your Minister, there is no colour conflict or dilemma in what button-hole to wear. For in addition to what was mentioned earlier, the Red Poppy is also a reminder of the sacrifice that our Lord made on a blood-spattered wooden Cross to enable sinful people to receive forgiveness for past mistakes [1 John 1: 9] and the availability of peace which comes from knowing that we’re loved and accepted by God [John 14: 27] and so have a Heavenly future in His Presence [2 Cor. 5: 1]. As prolific hymn-writer Charles Wesley so perceptively puts it:
Amazing love! How can it be – That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
God Bless - Your Minister and Friend - Martyn
Photo from The Australian War Memorial 2018 Website