White v. Red: Remembering what Remembrance Day is about

Copyright ImageVankleek Hill flower


There’s a move on now to turn Remembrance Day in Ontario into a holiday. I don’t think it’s a good idea, for the same reason I think people in Ottawa are misguided to think it’s cool to sell white poppies beside the red ones: because we, as a Nation, are so completely ill-informed as to what the day means in the first place.

What chance is there someone with a typical high school education in Canadian history is going to use a stat-holiday to reflect on our role in Korea? About as much chance as there is now of that same person showing up at their town’s cenotaph on Remembrance Day, so why give them an entire day off to celebrate their ignorance?

People have become (have always been) so ignorant of what Remembrance Day is that the day is becoming a political event. Pretty soon we’ll have protesters dressed in black, waving the Anarchy flag in front of war memorials.

There are people in Ottawa, for example, who call themselves a “White Poppy Coalition” (I looked for a website, but couldn’t find one). They’re selling white poppies this year because they’re convinced the red ones are a celebration of war. One of them told the Ottawa Sun recently the white poppies celebrate a “non-violent means of conflict resolution”. They deliberately chose a poppy, making their statement overtly political and insulting to the people — civilian and soldiers alike — who have served , lived through or died in wars around the world.

Rex Murphy pointed out in a recent column that “poppies show our regret at war’s horrors, not our love for it”. In other words, the red poppy already has your non-violent concerns covered, but thanks for reminding us all of the need for a better education system.

Here’s what I remember… after spending the first years of WW2 as a conscientious objector, my grandfather was training to be a tail-gunner when the war ended; his youngest brother flew Lancaster bombers over Germany; their oldest brother was a member of the 1st Special Service Force, aka: “The Devil’s Brigade”. He fought all the way up the Italian boot, and he did it mostly at night and with a knife.

My father’s father served as a radioman aboard the HMS Hood, but transferred off to a smaller ship just weeks before the Hood was sunk by the Bismarck. His future wife, and my grandmother, was a mathematician who helped develop radar. She later worked on breaking Nazi codes.

The first of my relatives who made it to Canada was a French military doctor who came to Quebec in 1740. He started one of the first hospitals in Montreal, and dedicated his life to ministering to the poor and destitute. He also served as a military physician during the War of 1812. Thanks to his work, but mostly because he didn’t get paid for doing it, he died penniless and so far in debt his widow and most of his children had to adopt a new name.

During the early 1970’s my parents and their friends helped protect and shelter young American draft dodgers who were making their way north to avoid being conscripted into the Vietnam War.

That’s what I remember. This is what my family has done to stop tyranny, and to stop wars from happening again, and also to protect people from being forced to serve in war, and the red poppy covers every one of them.


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About Gabriel

I’ve lived in more than fifty places. I've been paid to pick stones out of fields, take backstage photos of Britney Spears, and report on Internet privacy issues. My photos have been published in several newspapers, and a couple of magazines.
This entry was posted in Canada, Civil Rights, From My Wall, Nature, Photography, Politics, Quebec Politics, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to White v. Red: Remembering what Remembrance Day is about

  1. Rae says:

    The white poppies started in the UK a few years ago, and have been slowly spreading. Sad. Disturbing. Wrong.

    I come from a military family. My father, My mother, both of my step fathers, and soon my brother. I have applied, but crohns makes me non deployable which limits my option. Military are people are not pro war, but they will fight to protect what they believe in.

  2. Gabriel says:

    Actually the ‘white poppy’ has been around since 1926, but has meant different things to different groups. Originally it was meant to honour the sacrifice of all soldiers, because people thought the red poppy was only meant for British soldiers.

    “…in 1933 the Women’s Co-operative Guild introduced the White Poppy. Their intention was to remember casualties of all wars, with the added meaning of a hope for the end of all wars; the red poppy, they felt, signified only the British military dead.”

    The people in Ottawa, and elsewhere, have put their own spin on the white poppy by turning it into a symbol for “non-violent alternatives to war”… or something.

    On Remembrance Day a few years ago, I think it was 2004, these people laid a wreath of white poppies on top of the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier at the War Memorial, but they waited until the crowds had dispersed beforehand. It’s that kind of bullshit that exposes them as having nothing but a political agenda. There’s a thousand types of flowers out there, and 365.25 days in the year. But they’re not interested in the day, or the people we’re remembering on that day.

    This was the first year there were no Canadian veterans left from WW1, soon the Korean and WW2 vets will have passed on. The more we lose touch with what Remembrance Day is actually about, the easier it will be for people like the Ottawa Coalition people to turn it into something it never was — a glorification of war, so they can push their agenda as the alternative… whatever it is.

    It’s doubly frustrating because, not only are they trying to turn the red poppy into something it’s not, they’re even manipulating the tradition of the white poppy.

    Thanks for the comment Rae.

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