Tag Archives: in rememberance

Wear your poppy [quietly] with pride


remembrance-poppy1[T]he origins of the Poppy Factory go back to 1922 when Major George Howson MC, a young infantry officer and engineer who served on the Western Front in the First World War, founded the Disabled Society to help disabled ex-Service men and women. Howson suggested to the British Legion that Society members should make poppies, and the artificial flowers were designed so that someone who had lost the use of a hand could assemble them with one hand.

With a grant of just £2,000 from the Unity Relief Fund, he set up a small factory off the Old Kent Road with five ex-Servicemen. It was here that the first poppies were made. Within a few months the number of employees had risen to 50, providing work and an income for many disabled veterans and their families. As demand grew, the premises became too small and the Factory moved to Richmond, Surrey, near to the present Factory which was built in 1933.

Wear your poppy with pride is the message, and we do; well, most of us. The rest, that is their choice. They have their reasons. You may not agree, but this is freedom. Think about what the poppy represents and it is liberty, above all, that previous generations fought for.

Remove choice and poppies lose all meaning, becoming just another formality, like pulling on a pair of trousers in the morning. Nobody claims to be wearing their trousers with solemnity or a particular sense of patriotic pride. It is just what we do, a convention.

The poppy should have greater resonance than that. It should be more than an accessory, thoughtlessly jammed into a lapel or checked for like a mundane, functional item: keys, wallet, mobile phone, poppy.

As ever, this country is at its best when it is being quietly decent, when it is not beating people around the head with its patriotism.

In America, there are so many star-spangled banners flying on every lawn and shopping mall that all impact has been lost. They use Old Glory to support the troops; they use it to sell you a Chrysler. Many are imported anyway. The year after the 9/11 attack, the United States imported $7.9m of flags from China and some had 53 stars.

Our poppy is different. Wearing it means you have taken some time to think about what the people of this country stood for, and what they were prepared to endure to preserve our freedom. For that reason, it should never become something we just put on, like an old pair of jeans, or a new replica football shirt.

So wear your poppy with pride this week and reflect of the quotation from Cecil Rhodes, “Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life”.

It is because we keep remembering the men and women who have given their lives for us that we can share our common heritage, freedom and values.

Lest We Forget

This Remembrance Day go along to the corner of Clerkenwell Road and Hatton Garden.

There you will find a blue plaque to Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim (5th February, 1840 – 24th November, 1916) an American born inventor who emigrated to England and adopted British citizenship. He was the inventor of the Maxim gun, the first portable, fully automatic machine gun.

[M]axim was reported to have said: “In 1882 I was in Vienna, where I met an American whom I had known in the States. He said: ‘Hang your chemistry and electricity! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility.”

As a child, Maxim had been knocked over by a rifle’s recoil, and this inspired him to use that recoil force to automatically operate a gun. Between 1883 and 1885 Maxim patented gas, recoil and blow-back methods of operation. After moving to England, he settled in West Norwood where he developed his design for an automatic weapon. He thoughtfully ran announcements in the local press warning that he would be experimenting with the gun in his garden and that neighbours should keep their windows open to avoid the danger of broken glass.

Maxim founded an armaments company to produce his machine gun which later merged with Nordenfeldt and the Vickers Corporation in 1896, becoming ‘Vickers, Son & Maxim’. Their updated design was the standard British machine gun for many years. Sales of the Maxim gun were bought and used extensively by both sides during World War I.

The Battle of the Somme fought from July to November 1916, was among the largest battles of the First World War. With more than 1.5 million casualties, it is also one of the bloodiest military operations recorded. The Allied forces attempted to break through the German lines along a 12-mile front north and south of the River Somme in northern France. The battle is best remembered for its first day, 1st July 1916, on which the British suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead – the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army.

Maxim died four months after the start of the Battle of the Somme, profoundly deaf as his hearing had been damaged by years of exposure to the noise of experimenting with his gun.

If only he had stopped with his other weapon of mass destruction, history might have been different . . . the ubiquitous mouse trap.

As a curious footnote the building opposite the blue plaque was the Old Holborn tobacco factory, another purveyor of death.

In Memoriam

At the risk of unleashing a river of vitriol I want to address roadside memorials. As drivers we are told that nothing should distract our attention, so no mobiles, loud music, or if the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has their way, no smoking. In the past Eva Herzigova’s advert for Wonderbra caused a string of accidents caused by male drivers being distracted by her female charms displayed on very large hoardings around London.

[T]he appearance of these shrines in England is all the more surprising since the tradition is alien to Protestant cultures. They are contrastingly common in Spain, parts of Austria and much of South America. But I’m getting fed up with seeing these mounds of flowers, soft toys or football shirts placed at the side of the road in this country .

Understandably relations and loved ones of the deceased will get some solace and closure from these shrines, but they are messy and distracting. You crane your neck to try to find out who the victim might be and if there are toys around the base you lose your concentration momentarily.

And what’s the point? Surely you pay your respects at the resting place of your loved one not a lamppost beside the A40. Councils will now remove any homemade signs attached to street signs, so why do they let this clutter remain at the roadside?

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents believes there are important safety messages to be drawn from the trend. “The increase in the number of shrines just highlights how dangerous our roads are,” said a spokeswoman.

But the Society is concerned that the shrines may themselves increase the risk of accidents. “It isn’t something we would like people to stop doing but it’s important they take extra care. The same applies to motorists because it’s easy for them to take their eyes off the road for even a second.”

White Bike-4 The ghost bike memorials by Steve Allen work by just reminding drivers of the need to ‘think bike’. Usually these comprise of a white bike and the victim’s name.

How about a small plaque in a distinctive colour placed where people have died this could serve the dual purpose of a modest memorial and with its distinctive colour a reminder to motorists?