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Why people should never feel 'forced' to wear a poppy

PUBLISHED: 09:24 02 November 2017 | UPDATED: 10:08 03 November 2017

Completed standard poppies at a Poppy Factory in Richmond, London, as the Royal British Legion mark the first day of their annual Poppy Appeal. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 27, 2016. See PA story CHARITY Poppy. Photo credit should read: Hannah McKay/PA Wire

Completed standard poppies at a Poppy Factory in Richmond, London, as the Royal British Legion mark the first day of their annual Poppy Appeal. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 27, 2016. See PA story CHARITY Poppy. Photo credit should read: Hannah McKay/PA Wire

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Opinion: People who moan about others not buying a poppy are missing the point, says Rachel Moore.

The poppy seller, standing with her tray of red paper and plastic flowers and collection tin inside the supermarket door, made eye contact with every customer who passed.

A quick glance to check lapels, then she fixed the eyes of shoppers, playing on their consciences to buy a poppy.

Mine was lying on my kitchen table. Guilt swelling, I felt uncomfortable, exposed as mean-minded and disrespectful to the millions of war dead for not publicly displaying the symbol that I remembered them.

“I already have one at home,” I chirped, pointlessly, scuttling past, in case she, and everyone around, pigeon-holed me as some kind of poppy refusnik.

Safely in the car, I felt cross that one look from an elderly woman –however unintentional – could make me feel so bad.

Did it really matter that I wasn’t wearing a poppy? Even if I had made a conscious choice not to wear one, why should anyone feel guilty?

How has it come to be that we are made to feel we must display our remembrance with symbols of solidarity rather than, as the word means, simply remember?

After all, remembrance is something done quietly, respectfully and privately in thoughts more than demonstration.

Attitudes to poppy wearing have shifted hugely in the last few years; the social division of whose who do and those who don’t.

To go out without a poppy between now and November 11 is increasingly frowned upon.

A voluntary act feels like it’s becoming compulsory, one where no excuse will do. Not wearing one is too often interpreted as disrespectful for the human sacrifices made and millions of lives lost.

But wearing a poppy is a choice made for personal reasons, be they remembrance, respect or as a symbol of hope for peace.

Increasingly people feel coerced to be seen to do the right thing, which dilutes and cheapens the message of the poppy.

They might be writing a mental to-do list in their head or wondering where they put the dog lead during the minute’s silence on November 11 at 11, but, as long as they are wearing the poppy for all to see, it doesn’t matter.

National football teams of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have won the right to wear them on their shirts, which means every player will display ones to “remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the first and second world wars.”

This is a great sentiment but hardly voluntary meaningful individual acts.

What will matter is if they will be wearing poppies pinned on their designer lapels after the matches, and why, which will say far more than any diktat from their management.

I choose to wear a poppy. Seeing other people choosing to wear them too feels like a special bond of humanity, a quiet nod to each other that we are remembering the atrocity of war, the horrific bloodshed and waste of life and a consensus that it must never happen again.

But I don’t condemn people who don’t, and dislike intensely the aggression and outrage against anyone who chooses not to display their membership of this club – just because they don’t wear it on their jacket doesn’t mean they don’t care, think the same, remember or respect.

It doesn’t mean any lack of solidarity, empathy, gratitude for the sacrifice or understanding of what remembrance is all about.

The poppy was first adopted as the symbol of remembrance after the First World War, representing mourning and regret, and as a pledge that war would never happen again.

As years passed, a new meaning grew, a kind of patriotic duty, to have pride in the sacrifice of armed services.

There’s a big difference between wanting to be seen to be wearing one because we feel we have to, because it’s the thing to do, and choosing because it’s what we truly believe in – or making a donation but not feeling the need to display it publically.

Respect counts when it is genuine, not when it’s demanded.

Such terrible loss and blood letting was too terrible to forget and should never happen again.

Let’s remember the fallen as they should be remembered, and hope for peace, and not make unnecessary conflict about who wears a poppy and who doesn’t.

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