Aggressive language in church always throws me. So I found myself unable to answer my interlocutor that Sunday morning here in St X’s. Now, with respect, and several years later, here is the response I would have given had I not been so taken aback.
Yes, Remembrance Sunday does mean a great deal to me. Both my parents served in the Second World War, my mother losing her first husband to that conflict. My paternal grandfather’s graphic, poignant, teenage-diary from the Somme is a treasured possession. But yet I wear a white poppy? Why?
Red Poppies remember only British armed forces and those who fought alongside them, according to the Royal British Legion. White Poppies recall all victims of all wars, including victims of wars that are still being fought. This includes people of all nationalities, civilians and members of armed forces; all those wounded in body or mind; the millions who have been made sick or homeless by war and the families and communities consequently – collaterally – torn apart; those killed or imprisoned for refusing to fight and for resisting war. White Poppies recall civilians killed in the bombings of London, Coventry and Belfast, and in the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, Baghdad, Kabul and Aleppo.
White Poppies symbolise the conviction that there are better ways to resolve conflict than through the use of violence. They embody values that reject the killing of fellow human beings for whatever reason. Nearly 100 years after the end of the ‘war to end all wars’ we still have a long way to go to put an end to a social institution that even in the last decade has contributed to the killing of millions.
The white poppy is a reminder of our inability to settle conflicts without resort to killing. But more importantly it is a symbol of commitment to work for a world where conflicts are resolved without violence and with justice. The white poppy aims to foster an understanding that there are alternatives, and rallies support for resistance to the growing militarisation of our society.
I wear it with gratitude for those who ‘gave their today’ that there might in fact be a tomorrow. But I wear it also to remind me that the best way to respect those victims of war is to work to prevent war in the present and future. Violence only begets more violence. I wear it to work for a culture of peace.
Anne Tomlinson (with thanks to the Peace Pledge Union web site)
Rev Canon Dr Anne Tomlinson is Principal of the Scottish Episcopal Institute