RBL 2023 poppy

We built this city on sausage rolls – thank goodness for Greggs

For those who have noticed the omission from Debrett’s, advice from the Royal British Legion states the remembrance poppy should be worn from the last Friday in October until the conclusion of annual remembrance events. Though the jury is out for me on the new plastic-free design it will mean significantly less single-use plastic which can’t be a bad thing.

RBL 2023 poppy
The plastic free 2023 RBL Poppy

Having been in London recently, I couldn’t help but notice how few were wearing this marker of remembrance. I’m from a generation born decades after the conclusion of World War II. However, both my parents lived through the second world war. My father served with the British army in the Middle East and my mother worked in a variety of critical roles I only learned about when she was in her eighties. My great-uncle and namesake died from his wounds in Palestine during the Great War aged just 23 and is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in what is now the very troubled Gaza strip.

I doubt any member of the family has visited his grave in the intervening century though I hope I may be able to put that right at some point, though that prospect seems particularly distant as Gaza provides the battlefield for the war between Isreal and Hamas.

For these and other reasons, I have always recognised the sacrifices made by previous generations, including those within my own family. Then of course there are the wars and conflicts that saw many die within my lifetime. Those would include the Falklands, two desert storms and those lost during the troubles in Ireland.

However, it seems I’m very much in the minority, at least if you take south London and specifically Camberwell as a benchmark. Yesterday evening I took a walk that isn’t too dramatic for a country boy like me but fills those from London village with incredulity. Needing to be at the South Bank, I opted to walk from the Peckham/Camberwell border to Oval, Vauxhall and along the south bank of the Thames. Surely, I thought somewhere along the route I would be able to pick up a poppy?

The easiest and first stop was the local corner shop resulting in an entirely blank look. It wasn’t that they didn’t have any, it was that the retailer had no idea what I was asking for, referring me to the local supermarket that sold some plants. A similar story at two further corner shops, surely Messrs Sainsbury would have something on their customer service desk? Now it may only be a Sainsbuty local but not enough interest or footfall to carry them in smaller stores apparently.

Greggs Camberwell
Thank goodness for Greggs

In fact, none of the many and varied stores along the length of Peckham Road into Camberwell Green had the once ubiquitous tray of poppies.  There was, however, a notable exception.  Thanks to the renowned palace of puff pastry that is Greggs, I’m now the owner of a 2023 poppy which has been worn as a mark of respect and gratitude since its purchase. A huge thank you to Greggs and the staff of their Denmark Hill Road branch. My question is whether this is a south London thing or have we got bored with remembering the sacrifices of those who secured our liberties?

For the record, I kept a running tally of the poppies I saw worn by those I passed on my trip to dinner. Disappointingly, it was Vauxhall before I spotted a single poppy. A flurry (eight) more were seen in the heart of Westminster and two or three more along the south bank. Of course, I may just be a little early, but ‘lest we forget’ does seem to be alien to most  people under fifty.

A barricaded cenotaph
The National Cenotaph barricaded in London

This coincides with a particular low, a new development in Whitehall. The cenotaph has been barricaded on all sides to prevent damage by protesters in the lead-up to Remembrance Sunday.

I have to admit I struggle to understand how anyone with an iota of respect would consider defacing or damaging something that represents national remembrance. I believe it’s alien to my generation. Hopefully an unnecessary over-reaction by the Metropolitan Police Service, but I regret to say I suspect we have descended so low as to allow a minority to see Remembrance Day and such monuments as a legitimate ‘target’.

How we have approached this thinking defeats me. Too focused on our own perceived victimhood, too keen to battle against any number of alleged persecutions we’re at risk of losing the humanity and respect owed to those who secured the right to protest, to strive and live in imperfect but secure representative democracies. Is a little respect and thanks too much to ask in 2023?

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