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Milf Teeth

Why I'll Be Wearing a Poppy This Remembrance Sunday

It doesn't mean you like war. Why would it mean you like war?

When I was 18, I had passed my A-levels and was living at home in York, with a job on the books counter in WH Smith. During quiet periods in the shop, I would sneak over to the music section and read the lyric sheets to songs I hadn't yet heard, imagining what they might sound like. At weekends I got the coach down to London and stayed with my boyfriend, who was older and worked with indie bands. Britpop was going on and Camden was full of gigs that we went to on these things called guestlists that I had just discovered and found more exciting than the discovery of the wheel. Back in York, I would spend so long telling my friends that I had sat next to Blur in a pub that they’d start to feign ear infections. Life was pretty much a golden roasted peach with honey on it.


If somebody had come to me then and said, "Right, you’re an adult now, in good health, so forget about home, forget about those songs, forget about love, get on this series of rackety trains with one bag on your back and come and live in a wet trench and get trenchfoot in a country you’ve never seen." If someone had said to me then, watch the necrosis set into your flesh, watch it turn to gangrene, wondering all the while if you’ll be able to get home and get the whole leg amputated or if you won’t need to do that because a grenade will have exploded on your head by nightfall, sending your brains pouring down your back like metal in a foundry. If someone had said to me then, come and swill around in the blood of the friends you couldn’t save, eating pea soup with chunks of horse in to survive, firing bullets at men you will never love, or hate, because they make as much sense to you as stars. Well. I would probably have asked which Gap Year brochure they were getting all this from, and if the Foreign Office advised travelling there, and if they were on drugs, and if I could smoke some of them too.

Yet that’s what happened in World War One, when conscription meant that every 18-year-old in Britain who was strong enough was called upon to donate themselves to a war of attrition. Alright, so I’m female and would most likely have avoided the trenches, but it doesn’t mean I can’t try and imagine, just for a minute, how utterly horrific it all was.


This is the bit where you’re going to go – yes, exactly, war is horrific and that’s why I would never wear a poppy – I’m not celebrating all that military stuff. Well, poppies aren’t a celebration of it. They are a way of remembering all the people who died, whether the war had a point or not, whether you believe that they died for you or not, whether they were pawns in a rich man’s political game or not, whether they actively wanted to join the army or were terrified conscripts who wet the bunk every night.

The fact is that they did go there and they did die and you probably won’t have to. It’s not about saying that you agree with everything. In fact – here’s the good bit – it’s not actually about you at all. It’s a sign of respect for something that you know nothing about and that has nothing to do with you. That’s the whole point – other people fought wars so you wouldn’t have to know anything about war, wouldn’t have to have anything to do with it. That’s the idea, at least, flawed though it may be. My grandad was in the military his entire working life, and he wasn’t doing it so his grandchildren would have to fight too. He believed, rightly or wrongly, in his work as an army linguist, getting to know local villagers in East Africa and Asia and learning all of their dialects and their customs, evacuating tens of thousands of Burmese from a Japanese invasion, that he was working for peace.

Decades later, I remember his wife – my grandmother – when Tony Blair announced that our boys would be going into Iraq. “You’d have thought, by now, with everything that they’ve invented,” she said, a widow now, sitting in her sheltered accommodation flat, “that they would have invented something better than war.” The colour drained from her face. Veterans do not want any more wars. Poppy day has a slogan, and it is Never Again. In fact a veteran of the Falkland Islands wrote a letter to the Guardian saying that poppies weren’t enough, that he felt like "pouring a bucket of blood into people's living rooms to show them what war is really like". He wanted to do this so no politician would ever think lightly of even considering war again.

By wearing a poppy you are not retweeting war. You are not pressing the big red "Like" button on military action and men with shouty big guns. What you’re actually saying is – alright what I’m saying, with my poppy – is that war is something I know fuck all about, I’m a lover not a fighter, and I hope to remain in my blissful loving ignorance forever. And that I’d just like to thank everyone who made that lifestyle option possible for me.

Follow Sophie on Twitter: @heawood

Previously: The Selfies at Funerals Tumblr Tells Us a Lot About Death