Poppy power

by Kathryn Wylie and Màiri Thomson

This weekend people all over the UK will celebrate the 92nd anniversary of the official end of World War I on Remembrance Sunday. Services took place yesterday, on the 11th day of the 11th month with two minutes of silence at 11am.

However protests have been held by groups who are against what the poppy appeal stands for. A group called Muslims Against Crusades marched near Hyde Park and burned a poppy, while a section of the crowd at last weekend’s Celtic v Aberdeen football match held banners saying “Your deeds they would shame all the devils in hell. Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan. No blood-stained poppy on our hoops”. These protests have provoked discussion on what the annual poppy appeal is really about, made people think about the real reasons behind wearing a poppy.

Leigh James from The Scottish Poppy Appeal said: “Our annual campaign has provided support to veterans and their families since 1921 by selling very simple paper poppies which members of the public buy and wear to show respect for servicepeople.

“The campaign was created after World War I to provide support to people left destitute by the effects of the conflict. There was still a need for this support after World War II; in fact since 1945 there has only been one year (1968) in which a serviceperson has not died.”

Nearly one million people in Scotland are part of the ex-service community and while many lead relatively normal lives, some have difficulties and need help facing the challenges which are a result of their experiences. Three of the men featured in this year’s poppy campaign were serving in Afghanistan when they were injured in IED (Improvised Explosive Device) explosions.

They suffered serious injuries including losing limbs and one of the soldiers lost an eye. Leigh James said: “The immediate care these soldiers recieve in Afghanistan is excellent, and when they come back to Britain they are very well cared for; they are surviving injuries that they wouldn’t have before. The Scottish Poppy Appeal provides support to them further on in the treatment process.”

Leigh added: “They have witnessed horrific acts which are impossible to imagine, so some soliders experience mental health issues after they have returned; these often don’t manifest themselves straight away. The psychological issues servicepeople experience are just as severe as physical injuries.”

The poppies we wear are made by 40 ex-servicemen, who make up the workforce of Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory in Edinburgh. Most of them are registered disabled. The original factory was opened in March 1926 and employed men who had been disabled during World War I. It moved to Warriston Road in 1965 and now produces  five million handmade poppies each year, 8,000 wreaths to order and processes over 25,000 collection tins.

The Scottish Poppy Appeal is a different organisation to the Royal British Legion which runs the poppy campaign in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are however a sister organisation and have the same beliefs and values. In 2009, £2.2 million was raised, a 9% increase on the previous year’s total, and Leigh James said the Scottish Poppy Appeal is “hopeful of exceeding last years total”.

Poppyscotland runs the Scottish Poppy Appeal and funds the resultant charitable services, while the Royal British Legion Scotland are responsible for remembrance, welfare and comradeship.The Royal British Legion Scotland is one of the many organisations who receive financial support from Poppyscotland and is currently funded by its War Pensions Appeal Service.

The Royal British Legion Scotland is a separate branch of the Royal British Legion. Around 200 branches throughout Scotland are responsible for organising Remembrance services in their area. 

 Neil Griffith from the Royal British Legion Scotland said: “We are in charge of organising remembrance ceremonies all over Scotland this Sunday. Alongside the large memorial on Royal Mile we also try to organise smaller services wherever there is a War Memorial.”

Wreaths will be laid at memorials around the country

He added: “This is our busiest time of year. Our National Remembrance Service is held on the Royal Mile and is attended by the First Minister, Presiding Officer, the Secretary of State, Emergency Services, RBLS President Lt Gen Sir Alistair Irwin and the Armed Forces.”

Although the traditional method of door to door poppy selling has dwindled over the last few years due to lack of volunteers, this service does still continue in most rural areas. The well known “pop-up-poppy” campaign which usually takes over the front of the city’s Omni Centre is not happening this year, but new methods such as online donations and the release of this year’s “2 Minute Silence” single are bringing the appeal to life.

Laura Fletcher from the East of Scotland Branch of Poppy Scotland explained: “We launched our new website this year so that has helped to create a lot of traffic. It is possible for people to donate online via our website.”

Speaking about the Remembrance events in Edinburgh this weekend she said: “Poppy Saturday is a big day for us this weekend. We will have our volunteers out on the streets with tins collecting all over the city.”

While fundraising initiatives are changing to be more accessible, remembrance services themselves are also becoming more open to the public.

 Neil explained: “This year is the first time we have organised a huge marching parade through the streets of Edinburgh that will not only include the normal dignitaries but the general public aswell, led by the marching bands. We have around 52 civilian groups getting involved including include consuls, regimental associations, St Andrews Ambulance Association, Girlguiding Edinburgh, the Humanist Society of Scotland, the Leith Sea Cadets, the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain and the Army Cadet Force.”

 He added: “This year we want to make the Remembrance much more inclusive given that Remembrance is not just exclusive to the armed forces, it is a National Act of Remembrance.” 

RBLS General Secretary George Ross said: “We want this to reflect the whole of society. Remembrance is not the exclusive preserve of the Armed Forces and we hope the parade will reflect this. Everyone is welcome to participate in this national event.”

Members of the public who want to get involved should meet at the Lawnmarket at 10.45am. A large screen will be located on the Lawnmarket and tiered seating will be in place for the first time. Members of the public may even be able to lay a wreath.

The traditional service at the Heart of Midlothian Clock will also go ahead as normal this year at the Clock’s temporary site near Haymarket. Donated by Hearts Football club in 1922 in remembrance of the Hearts players, managers and supporters who fought in WWI, the majority of whom died in the Battle of the Somme. The current Hearts players are expected to attend the service on Sunday.

At Haymarket since 1922, the clock stands as an expression of their unimaginable grief. It occupies a prominent position in one of Scotland’s busiest road junctions and is a daily reminder of what Wilfred Owen called ‘the pity of war’.

These are just a few of the ways in which the Legion helps to ensure that: “If we are to maintain our peace and freedom, we must always remember.”