Lest we remember…

White poppies are distributed by the Peace Pledge Union, the oldest secular pacifist group in the UK. Last time I wore one, I was insulted by two librarians.

Pardon me for saying so — or don’t: I really couldn’t care less — but I’m not much of a fan of our annual ‘Remembrance Sunday’ rituals.

For one thing, what really ought to be an occasion for society-wide consciousness-raising — a chance for the old to teach the young that the ruling elites have never seen them as anything other than a resource to be spent — is instead managed and manipulated so as to place those same ruling elites centre-stage in a theatre of fake respect and pseudo-humility. If you really think a creature like Theresa May (or David Cameron, or Gordon Brown, or Tony Blair…) — or any of that sociopathic gaggle of ‘royals’ — can stand at the Cenotaph and feel anything other than the cold, then something has gone seriously awry in what should have been your education.

Plus, there’s the rather obtrusive fact that what, by rights, should be a day of public rage — over loss, over suffering, over the whitewashed psychopathy of state-policy violence — never contains so much as a smidgeon of anger, not the mildest trace of anything that might ever bring about the tiniest change

Needless to say, the ‘mainstream media’ — being an outgrowth of the same elite interests that demand endless war because they demand endless profits — happily plays along: I absolutely guarantee that not a single one of tomorrow’s ‘Sunday newspaper’ editorials will contain any kind of text that might lead the virginal reader to understand that the reason wars happen is that they serve the economic and political interests of the 1% at the same time as they flatter the instinctive xenophobia, self-righteousness, conformism, servility and love of violence of the stupidest among the 99%.

East End, c.1917: boots recovered from dead soldiers are repaired and re-proofed before being returned to the military for re-issue.

And don’t, please, ask me to wear a red poppy — that potent symbol of our population’s determination to feel good about feeling bad, and its joy at being able to point the finger at anyone who won’t join in. If I’m going to pin anything to my lapel that isn’t a defiant white feather, it will be a miniature banknote — in memory of all the unfortunate millionaires created by Britain’s wars from 1914 until today.

On top of which, it so happens that as a symbol of ‘sober remembrance’, or whatever it’s meant to be, the poppy stinks anyway. If you trace the hallowed poppy-wearing tradition all the way back to 1915 and its apparently ‘foundational’ doggerel — you know the muck: “In Flanders fields the poppies grow / Between the crosses, row on row […]” — you’ll see that the third and final verse is nothing less than sickening: your war dead won’t rest unless you continue the killing

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.

Mind you, if it’s ‘sickening’ you want, I don’t think you could do better than this photograph — which (and I wouldn’t mislead you about this) was actually posted online by the Royal British Legion the other year…

One more little reminder of the the way terrorists prefer to recruit by radicalising the young…

If you ask me, the people who originally set up all these various ‘commemorative’ rituals in the shocked aftermath of WW1 actually did it the wrong way round: it really shouldn’t be the case that members and representatives of our elites gather at monuments across the country to play with wreaths and look all sad as they contemplate memorials to some subset of ‘the fallen’ — the millions upon millions of poor people who died fighting other poor people in the service of rich people. What ought to be happening instead — just indulge me for a moment, and contemplate what would be a better world! — is that these notables would be there compulsorily to undergo the instructive experience of reading out loud the names and positions of those many thousands whom — in my alternate history! — were exiled, were dispossessed, were imprisoned for life, and were perhaps even executed for their warmongering, their profiteering, their propagandising, their myriad contributions to the causing, enabling, justifying, or carrying out of one or other elite-serving slaughter.

Pour encourager les autres‘ is a tactic usually deployed by the powerful to teach a lesson to the poorest and weakest; I’m sad that a British public that imagined it had witnessed ‘a war to end all wars’ didn’t follow through with the most necessary revolutionary act — appropriating the elite technique and turning the tables. If you want your passionate declarations of ‘Never again!’ to turn into reality, you have to deal with the problem at its source

And finally — if anyone is still reading this in a nation where ‘poppy worship’ is the nearest thing we have to a citizen-enforced state religion — we get to the music. For while most people seem to think of one or other slain ‘war poet’ as the ultimate symbol of WW1’s incalculable waste of present life and future possibility, for me personally that role is filled by the composer George Butterworth. Yes, I know there were dozens more composers killed — and not only on the allied side — but for me the wrench of knowing that the silenced Butterworth might have grown into one of our country’s greatest composers is a pain that is almost physical.

George Butterworth (1885-1916)

At the age of 31, Butterworth was killed during a period of heavy fighting near Pozières, five weeks into what was to become the four-and-a-half-month-long ‘Battle of the Somme’ (total death-toll c. 1,066,000). If you look around the internet, you’ll see a few details of where Butterworth and his men were at this time; it’s not at all impossible that the following contemporary photograph — of the road to Pozières, and with Contalmaison burning in the background — shows a road down which they walked.


What we do know — and for certain — is that before the going down of the sun on 5 August 1916, the head that conceived the wonderful music below had been smashed to pieces by a sniper’s bullet. His body was not recovered.


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12 thoughts on “Lest we remember…

  1. We do this same “citizen-enforced” religious ritual here in Canada, too. I offered your post to my young adult daughter to read to explain better to her why I’ve never worn a poppy nor observed Rememberance Day, at least not the way we are expected to.


  2. Thanks for such an articulate article. With the hindsight of what happened to Butterworth, /A Shropshire Lad/ does seem to assume such poignancy.

    I beg leave to add two further points to this excellent summary of the reasons not to wear the red poppy:

    1. The remembrance associated with the red poppy focuses on the plight of soldiers, sometimes mentions the civilians these soldiers left behind (after all, that is part of the remit of the British Legion), but seems to neglect the suffering and dispossession of the civilians who lived in the theatres of war themselves. In recent times, it is such civilians who have been hardest hit by war.

    2. There are, nowadays, several symbols which are purported to be “neutral”, such “neutrality” being the pretext for putting everybody under pressure (whether formal or informal) to wear the symbol. However, as the author explains so eloquently, such symbols accrue associations and way of framing a given history. A similar phenomenon is occurring with the rainbow flag: many claim it is just a matter of supporting “gay rights”, whilst overlooking the fact that it also promotes the idea that sexuality (of whatever sort) should be expressed publicly (cf. the National Trust’s “outing” of the deceased Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, despite the man’s having kept his sexuality private in his lifetime — underlying this action is the arrogant implicit assumption that Ketton-Cremer would have wanted to express his sexuality publicly, had society been more open to it at the time), and it promotes the paradigm of the long-term couple as the ideal relationship status (something which marginalises those who *choose* to be single or who opt for a /mariage de convenance/ with no pretences).

    So, given that no influential symbol is devoid of semiotic baggage, I refuse to be co-erced into wearing a symbol as part of a mass campaign (unless I have had time to reflect upon its significance and come to the conclusion that I support such semiotic baggage mostly or entirely).


  3. I was born khaki-brained. My dad was a common soldier. I became one too at 17 then I married a soldier. It’s taken me many years to think differently. I hope that young people will grow up wiser than I did.


  4. The Monuments Men

    They feel the cold beneath the sod,
    the souls of sons who died for God,
    and King and country in their droves,
    mowed down by guns. It ill behoves
    the rest of us to stand and nod.

    If we succumb to martial rod
    and follow blind and dumb paths trod
    by kith and kin as fodder clothed,
    we’ll feel the cold.

    Heed not the Blairite bugle’s prod,
    not prestitutes, the fake news squad,
    nor Tory spivs, nor pin-striped coves
    who march past monuments like doves.
    The only thing they’d feel – och, what odds
    they’d feel the cold?


  5. Hi Mark. Thanks for the article. So thought-provoking and much really hits nail on the head. My anger results from those who served this country and then abandoned to our streets. So many have PTSD; Many came straight out of Care System and went straight into forces. This picture in my mind juxtaposed to tweets from likes of Tory MP Maria Caulfield bemoaning that Labour supporters on the High Street in Petersfield on Saturday were not wearing Poppies!!! She got her just deserts. Many of her sent pictures and stats of those who fought in Falklands, Gulf wars & Afghanistan wars still homeless & forgotten. I despise her, et al, talking down at everyone about being “British” and “Honouring our Dead” like some kind of wound up banshee!

    What about our living I ask? Those like 82 year old veteran who died of cold on park bench. If they want to “honour” our military then they must legally provide a roof over their head, clinical care and food in their stomachs. THAT is how to honour military.

    I get sick of pomp and people like Blair telling the country that “We” are going to War. He will sit at home in his comfortable chair and send thousands of others to their deaths or to be maimed for life. I was told by some ex servicemen that they’d rather be “on the street than have PTSD!” I was so angry at MPs in Parliament who laughed out loud when they won vote to send soldiers into yet another War Zone. Sickening armchair directors of war.

    I always wear a poppy and honour the memory of my dad and his 4 brothers who fought in WW2. My father was a tank driver, landed on a Normandy Beach and fought in one of the bloodiest Battle for Caen – 80% of allied tanks & crew lost. He survived then shipped off to Ardenne for Battle of the Bulge where he saw a man’s head blown right off his shoulders. “No one would ever go to war if they really knew what is was like.”


  6. Thanks Mark. I must admit I was a bit sceptical of this, it smelt like an urban legend, so I looked into it. I found this very interesting thread on the subject of what happened to the kit of the dead and injured:


    Half way down a poster called Catfishmo has posted some amazing photos of all manner of kit being sorted and repaired. Well worth a look.

    You only got issued one set of underpants so if you went into hospital your undies were washed and fumigated and you would have left wearing someone else’s. FFS.

    BTW the ‘poppy creep’ reaches unprecedented levels. I came home from the pub to see the TV weather and MoD last night – there were poppies all over both, including a giant one on the floor of the MoD Tv studio. This was accompanied by everyone, Shearer included, intoning a load of fake solemn virtue-signalling baloney. This country has entered the second childhood of senescence.


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