Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Poppy

This is the text of a letter I have just submitted to the Irish News.

Jackie McAnee (23 November) states that the poppy is 'a British symbol'.  He also states that, 'The French, Belgians, Dutch, Americans etc do not wear the poppy - this is purely a British thing.'  However McAnee is wrong in both statements.

In the United States of America the American Legion sells poppies to raise funds for its work.  I was also struck by the symbolism of the poppy when I visited the National World War I Museum in Kansas.  Poppies were on sale in the museum and at the entrance there is a Western Front poppy field where each of the 9,000 poppies represents a thousand combatant deaths.

There is also a strong poppy tradition in Canada, where it is the official symbol of remembrance.  Indeed it was a Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae, who wrote the poem In Flanders Fields in 1915.  The first line of that poem is 'in Flanders fields, the poppies blow' and this poem did much to establish the poppy as an international symbol of remembrance.

Today the poppy has become such a powerful symbol that in some countries, such as Malta and South Africa, Remembrance Day is actually referred to as Poppy Day.  Even in Belgium, one of the countries mentioned by Jackie McAnee, there is a Poppy Parade to the Menin Gate in Ypres and poppies are released from the roof of the Menin Gate.

If we are to create a shared and better future in Northern Ireland then we need to explore and plode the myths that have contributed to so much misunderstanding.  I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to explode the myth that the poppy is 'purely a British thing'.

Nelson McCausland MLA
256 Ballysillan Road

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