Red Poppy, White Poppy

He’s seen the glory, and told the story of battles glorious, and deeds victorious…  Andy Stewart The Scottish Soldier

 Over the top?

By Roger Childs

selling poppiesIs the country more obsessed than usual with Anzac Day? This year the TV presenters have been wearing red poppies since long before Easter; there are special supplements in the papers and many television documentaries, films and dramas on screen; the government has allocated millions of dollars and there has been vigorous red poppy marketing. Furthermore, Trelise Cooper, with an eye to  the main chance, has been selling fashion items based on the red poppy theme.

Is there too much emphasis on the battles glorious and deeds victorious and is the mantra  lest we forget too focused on the fallen servicemen and forgetful of the huge number of civilian deaths?  And what’s so important about this year?

It is not the centenary of our soldiers going to fight in the South African War. It’s not the hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. That will be next year. However it is almost a hundred years since the start of World War One, and that accounts for the heightened interest in the 2014 Anzac commemorations. But are we remembering this horrendous conflict for all the right reasons?

The Great War?

This conflict killed over 20 million people, cost billions of dollars and caused enormous destruction across Europe. In France, the location for the infamous western front, more than

WW1 damage~ 1.3 million soldiers were killed
~ 20,000 sq km of farmland was ruined
~ 4865 sq km of forest was wiped out
~ 250,000 buildings were destroyed.

It was a war that started with an assassination but escalated dramatically as the great powers of Europe flexed their muscles, set the troop trains in motion and refused to back down.

World War One cartoonThe expected over by Christmas1914 conflict dragged on with devastating results until November 1918. It was a catastrophic and unnecessary war. There is an old saying that old men start wars and young men fight and die in them.

World War I was considered to be the war to end all war, but the peace settlement in 1919 made another one inevitable. In trying to make Germany incapable of starting another war, it sowed the seeds for the conflict Hitler initiated in 1939.


A prophetic cartoon PEACE AND FUTURE CANNON FODDER, crafted in 1920 by Will Dyson, accurately predicted the next world war. It showed the four architects of the infamous 1919 Treaty of Versailles, emerging from a meeting. The French President, Clemenceau, comments Curious! I seem to hear a child weeping! In the corner is a naked child representing Germany, crying. Above his head is written 1940 CLASS.


Red poppies

flanders fieldsIn Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae 1915

After the war it became fashionable to wear a red poppy to honour the soldiers who died in the war. McCrae, with a poem which was almost discarded, started a practice which continues across the world nearly a hundred years later.

The third verse of In Flanders Fields has become controversial. The dead are addressing the living.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Some would interpret these words as encouraging more war and inevitably more killing. So to them the red poppy represents war. Others argue that because it was a1915 poem when the war was raging, the living are being exhorted to sort out the quarrel with the foe, achieve the goals of the war and bring an end to conflict.

Lest we forget all war casualties

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet, lest we forget—lest we forget! Rudyard Kipling’s words from the late 19th century have become synonymous with Anzac Day in New Zealand. Kipling was exhorting British people not to forget the sacrifice of Christ, however we use it to remember the fallen in the wars in which Kiwis have fought. Religion and war often go hand in hand.

It is important that we do not forget those who served and died in wars over the last 115 years. Many of those New Zealanders who went overseas to die or be injured had no choice. The government made the decision to fight for the British Empire, the Americans or the United Nations in what former governor general Dame Silvia Cartwright has called other people’s wars.

 However, most of the casualties in these conflicts, from South Africa to Afghanistan, were innocent civilians. These were people, whose villages, towns, cities and farms happened to be in a war zone. So millions died, simply because they lived in the wrong places at the wrong times.

The white poppy for peace

White poppy The red poppy honours the fallen servicemen and women, and sales raise money for the veterans and the families of those who never returned.

 The white poppy is specifically a PEACE symbol. In John Murray’s words it shows remembrance not only of our own Anzac armed forces but of all victims of war, soldiers and civilians, men and women and children, friend and foe. It is a commitment that war must not be allowed to happen again.

 So as another Anzac Day arrives we should reflect on the futility of war and its incredibly destructive effects on people, property and production.

We should honour and remember all the fallen, injured and displaced, and resolve, above all, to give peace a chance. Perhaps we can wear both poppies: the red and the white.