Viewpoint: Red and White Poppery

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In the 100years since the First World War it appears the causes for which this tremendous loss of life – prejudice, ignorance and the need to be “right” and on the “right side” – are still alive and well to-day, believes Peter Thomson.

One example is the “White” poppy which people purchase to demonstrate how PC and anti-war they are, ignoring that emblem of British Imperialism which is the “Red” Poppy.

Commentary by Peter Thomson

The real problem is the lack of knowledge as to why the Red Poppy became the signature of the Royal British Legion as it now is but originated as the Earl Haig Fund (and is still referred to as such in Scotland) in 1921.

The Earl Haig fund came into being to help destitute veterans of the 1914-1919 war who came home to mass unemployment and a Government already welching on its commitments to create a ‘land fit for heroes’. It was not just ‘Tommy’ who was in dire straits and jobless but a large chunk of the junior officers as well who returned unqualified for much else than labouring jobs.

The Haig Fund’s primary aim was to help ex- service personnel in difficulty get through until they could be gainfully employed and for those left so disabled by their wartime injuries they could never enter the workplace, a secure job in companies such as the ‘Poppy Factory’ in Richmond and other like establishments funded by the Haig Fund. Many of these carried on under the Remploy banner until the latest UK Government Welfare Act of 2012 saw their demise.

The emblem they chose to raise funds for this charitable work was the red poppy of Flanders as it was common to all who served on the Western front whatever rank or corps and was where most of the men and their families who were to be helped, would have served.

You paid your penny; you got your red poppy and understood the purpose was not ‘remembrance’ or ‘glorification of war’ but support of the service personnel and their families who had no one else to turn to in their time of need as the UK Government had washed their hands of them.

The Haig Fund would then disburse the money raised to Naval, Air Force and Army Regimental Funds to meet identified needs and through charities like SSAFA and the nascent British Legion. The red poppy still serves in this role to this day; the poppy is sold to raise money for service and ex-service charitable funds. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the Haig Fund is now administered by the Royal British Legion which ensures every £1 raised by the Poppy Appeal is placed in the fund and pays for its administration from its membership fee as is the case for the Earl Haig Fund in Scotland which is administered by Trustees of RBL (Scotland).

Sadly the British Establishment has made use of this simple relationship for its own propaganda purposes with the set piece at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. In recent times as the cynicism for politicians and the establishment they front became ever more prevalent; the peace campaigners played this up for all they are worth. The Red Poppy was pushed as an emblem of militarism, of useless sacrifice of service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, of everything we have grown to despise in a Westminster system of government increasingly isolated from the electorate it claimed to act for.  The simple transaction of buying a red poppy became a political issue rather than what it essentially is – a donation to service and ex-service charities through a central fund.

Service and Ex-Service charities who continue to fill the holes left by UK Government in their one-sided covenant with the armed forces which remains ‘all take; no give’ on their part. This is why putting a contribution in that Red Poppy collecting tin remains as important today as it did in 1921.

These funds are vital when due to UK Government indifference ex-service personnel are five times more likely to end up homeless than the UK norm and five times more likely to commit violent acts against their spouse or partner when suffering from combat related PTSD. It is the service charities backed by the ‘Poppy Fund’ which steps in to help out whether it is an Afghanistan returnee or a Korean veteran or their widows and dependents.

I do not see the same commitment to help the old, the wives and the children who suffer in the UK from the White Poppy gang as they play their political ‘peace’ card having hi-jacked the original idea for their own self justifying, moralising, political ends.

Whether you agree with the UK Government’s putting the UK’s Armed Services in danger for their short term political gain or corporate financial advantage, is a political issue.

Whether you donate to the Red Poppy Fund or not, is a humanitarian issue.

It is time to remember that there is a big difference.