Thursday, November 3, 2011

Photo property of Katariina Järvinen (http://www.flickr.com/photos/katariinajarvinen/5799935426/)

Those in the UK and several other countries will start to see the annual bloom of poppies on coat lapels over the next week. While there's undeniably a certain amount of social obligation behind it, I find it impressive that this symbol still unites the whole nation nearly a century after the armistice. It is, of course, more relevant than ever and it's moving to see a whole stream of commuters queuing up to buy poppies from a heavily-medalled sergeant at Waterloo station.

It's appropriate to wear the poppy from when it goes on sale at the beginning of November, up until Armistice Day or Remembrance Sunday, although it's unlikely anyone would take offence if you wore one outside of these dates.

Of course, the choice to wear a poppy or not is entirely a personal one, and noone should feel forced into it by social pressure. However if you are attending a remembrance service or a military event of some kind, courtesy probably dictates that you make the effort to wear a poppy, and preferably a new and uncrumpled one.

Men conventionally wear the poppy on their left breast, and ladies on their right, although this distinction is often ignored these days. I believe it is also acceptable for ladies in military uniform to wear the poppy on their hat, but no doubt their own service guidelines will provide the best advice in this case.

The important thing, of course, is not the etiquette but the gesture of a small donation and of common acknowledgement of our national gratitude to our armed forces. For this reason, I can't help feeling that extra-large poppies or ones made of fabric or metal are perhaps less appropriate. Since neither style nor permanence should be a consideration, the standard paper (or plastic, in Canada) poppy remains the simplest and most dignified symbol.

You may note that this blog has been a long-time supporter of Help for Heroes, another charity which does amazing work with injured soldiers from recent conflicts. This might be an appropriate time to consider making a small donation, and you will be able to do so using the link at the top right of this page.