Poppies: Ballad of a Tin Man

Joe Williams, Going Postal
The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust Poppy Field between Bewdley and Stourport.

‘But poppies are extraordinary flowers. They bloom in their millions every year, not only in the soil, but also on lapels, hats & car bumpers.’ Nicholas J. Saunders.

‘I need to buy another one, sweetheart. I took the last one off because a neighbour said the Corbynistas were beating people up for wearing poppies, and now I’ve gone and lost it, but I’m going to wear one anyway,’ said a little granny, as I sold poppies on a north London street. She put her money in the tin & I gave her two poppies, ‘one for luck’, & an enamel badge. We had a laugh & I said that it was highly unlikely she’d be decked by the hard-Left’s goon squad. That was November 2015. Given the accelerating madness of the last two years, now I’m not so sure.

Collecting for the British Legion stirs up a mix of emotions; predominantly positive & uplifting, but there are the darker moments as you watch a surge of the ‘new British’ passing by as if they own the place. Moments when you feel this really is the last roll of the dice. Thankfully, there’s still the genuine warmth & wit of the poppy buyers, a real sense of connection, however brief, & a feeling that your country hasn’t been irredeemably fractured. Just yet. People will shake your hand & say ‘Thank you for doing this.’ Last year, two new collectors, one, a dapper young professional, the other, in his seventies, an ex-Green Jacket wearing beret & medals who’d served in Sarawak in the 1960s, were both overwhelmed by the public’s response. Very moved indeed. The younger man had quickly understood that the Poppy Appeal isn’t just about the money. The generosity of the public is touching; buying you coffees, sweets, sandwiches, as well as the money they put in the plastic ‘tin’. One spritely elderly lady sprang off a bus outside M&S then dashed towards me bearing gifts: a trendy energy drink & a loaf of ‘artisan’ olive bread. ‘For you, young man!’ Poppied up, she then announced ‘We must leave the EU & reconnect with the Commonwealth!’

I split my time between the stations & the streets. These days the streets provide a rich variety of ‘characters’, & are generally more unpredictable than the large stations with their swift flows of pleasant, but more time-driven people. A quick chat & then they’re usually off. Major stations are where collecting tins fill at a remarkable rate. I catch the incoming commuter ‘punishment battalions’ at 7am onward as they pour off the packed trains; by 10am collectors’ heads are reeling from the number of people wishing to donate. One such morning last year, as I knelt down to re-stock our poppy trays, I looked up to see the business end of a large gun at eye-level. It belonged to a copper just asking ‘How’s it going, mate?’ For obvious reasons, these large transport hubs have a large security presence; seen, & also unseen. This year, for the first time in my experience, organisers have been issued with specific ‘Staying Safe’ leaflets, to be read by the collectors. I was told by a British Legion official that this is due to a serious ‘incident’ last year at Hammersmith underground. A lady poppy seller was threatened by ‘somebody’ who told her to pack up now; or else. She did so then went to the Transport Police to report it. She returned the next day. With police protection. Plucky woman.

Despite plenty of good-hearted ‘daytime’ people out & about, certain areas can still be a bit of a ‘red eye zone’. You have to keep your wits about you for the mentally disturbed, as well as those of a certain ‘religious’ persuasion, plus the swaggering ‘gangstas’ listening to rap or jabbering in ‘Multicultural London English’. And the Africans hollering into mobiles who stand right next to you as if you didn’t exist. One year I had a shock-headed madman who wouldn’t stop shouting about ‘giving morphine to wounded soldiers, that’s what they do!’ Perhaps he’d made the connection between the harmless corn poppy of remembrance & its cousin the opium poppy, the bringer of pain-relief, as does Nicholas J. Saunders in his scholarly book: The Poppy. A History of Conflict, Loss, Remembrance & Redemption. Eventually the coppers appeared & he ran off up an alleyway. There are lighter moments on the multiculti streets, as well. The builders’ vans & black taxis beeping their horns, the thumbs up, the shouts of ‘Well done mate!’ A poppy seller next to me, an ex-Guards NCO, seeing an imam billowing along in his white nightshirt, pinstripe jacket, skull cap, & koran in hand, said ‘Good afternoon, sir! One for the buttonhole?’ The imam looked as if he’d been offered a bacon sandwich by Grayson Perry in full cross-dress.

In the main, people are glad to see you, ‘Been looking everywhere for you,’ is a common expression. They then proceed to buy poppies, badges, wristbands, etc. for all the family, everyone at work & sometimes for private acts of remembrance; such as the lady who never met her British Army Dad as he was killed in Germany weeks before the end of the war, & weeks before her birth. She always buys two poppies, one to wear, & one to attach to her father’s photograph. A woman told me of her beloved brother killed in Korea. Over the years I’ve heard many such intensely personal stories, as complete strangers will sometimes open up to a sympathetic face. I always hope they feel a little better for releasing some of their sorrow. They appear to do so. A lot of twenty-somethings do donate, which is heartening, as do the more serious of the school-kids, although in this age-group the demographic scales are tipping over to the side that has little or no interest in our history, culture or traditions. This, I’m afraid, is undeniable. Of course, many British people pass by without giving my poppy tray the slightest glance, or do look, but walk past. Freedom of choice. No problem with that. I can hardly berate them in public, nor would I wish to. There can be complex, private, but not necessarily malevolent reasons, for not wearing a poppy, but, sadly, there is also genuine ignorance which breeds indifference, & the cultural Marxists in the teaching professions have been busy for decades.

Once, the owlish, lanky figure of Alan Bennett in his trademark scruffy, fogeyish overcoat shambled up & put a quid in the collection box. He didn’t want a poppy. Hostility is rare, touch wood, but one time a very stroppy burly woman with a guttural accent, dressed in an Afghan coat, rolled-to-the-knee jeans & monstrous black platform boots started on about Iraq & demanded I sell her a white poppy. I calmly batted her away, ‘Madam, you are entitled to your opinions & you’ve had your say, but you should really be at Speakers’ Corner.’ She wouldn’t let it lie & a crowd was forming. She grew more heated until an old guy said ‘Are you German?’ She admitted she was. ‘And your talking about invasions & killing civilians?’ It had the desired effect. I never try to defend the Iraq war, given what we know now, how could I? But I do say that the politicians put those at the sharp end in an impossible situation, often undermining them & then prosecuting them. And leave it at that. Last year one collector texted me to say he’d just sold the then Minister of State for the Armed Forces a poppy. An opportunity I would have taken to ask, politely, just why is our military being cut to the bone & what’s left further entangled with the EU when we’ve voted to leave?

Joe Williams, Going Postal
Bleuet de France, 2012 version
Many foreigners, often curious tourists, stop to chat & I explain a little of what the poppy signifies, or try to. An Egyptian Coptic Christian delivered a hellfire sermon on the evils of Islam, in perfect English, before making his donation. One grey wet afternoon outside a supermarket, a tall elegant young woman in a high-end anorak, hood up, approached & asked for a poppy badge. ‘We have nothing like this in my country for the veterans.’ She was Argentinian. A young Russian man from Kazan said of WW2, ‘We call it the Great Patriotic War’. He wandered away, fascinated with his poppy badge, looking at it intently for metaphysical significance. Older Polish people will stop & buy, & also the young women, not so much the labourers working on the building sites, speaking their own language & living in their bubble. A Canadian woman explained the differences between our poppy & that of her country, & grew emotional when talking about the ties between our respective nations. She then bought 25 British poppies. Some French, of which London now has many, will stop to chat & buy; some do get what it’s about, having had two World Wars on their soil. It was a French woman who first popularised the idea of a Remembrance poppy, but now their flower of choice is the Bleuet de France, the cornflower. Just today, a young Frenchman wearing a jumper adorned with the cornflower of remembrance bought a poppy, & as he walked away said ‘Vive l’Angleterre!’

While the buyers are predominantly white British, the Indians & Sikhs will also donate, as will a number of young black women, & guys, often current or ex-military, or family men in gainful employment. These are the blacks who regard the gangbangers with contempt. Black mums with kids will often stop to buy poppies & badges, & while pinning them on their nippers’ coats will explain just what the poppy represents. These are the #woke black people who would tell divisive racebaiters like Abbott where to stick her ‘oppressed & marginalised’ narrative, & why ‘stop & search’ might well prevent their son, who wants to make something of himself, from being stabbed by a 15 year old moron. Opinions that would, of course, be anathema to The Guardian. It was that paper’s art critic who poured scorn on the 2014 Poppy display at the Tower of London. ‘Fake, trite & inwardlooking – a UKIP-style memorial.’ This was the top comment BTL: ‘You are so wrong. More people than ever are recalling their loved ones & ancestors who were lost in the carnage. The poppy display is a moving, thoughtful experience for EVERYONE, & particularly children who are amazed by the fact that a poppy represents a death. It’s a visual experience, & makes one reflect.’ Indeed, ‘reflect’ on our colossal loss; the courage; the sacrifice; & why we are where we are today with regard to Europe.

On the streets is where raw feelings are more liable to be expressed, rather more than at the busy stations with their appearance of affluent civilisation going about its business. The footfall of poppy buyers is less frenetic; people have more time to talk, & are wanting to talk. After a few coded comments to test the reaction, feelings about what has been done to this country, the immensity of the betrayal, flow freely & the home truths come pouring out. A betrayal illustrated by the fact that there are areas of our towns & cities where it is now dangerous, suicidal, to sell poppies. You are in predominantly enemy territory.

Some of the elderly have the profound sadness & loss of the dispossessed, of the kind expressed in David Abbott’s bleak & rightfully bitter Dark Albion. A Requiem for the English. Others are full of fight. A very smartly dressed Scouser grandmother, very ‘switched on’, had no reservations about expressing her scathing opinion of ‘another culture’, as two black niquabs & their broods passed by. ‘Wearing poppies is standing up for who we are,’ she said, & this ‘standing up’ was ‘on the rise.’ This was the year of the Woolwich atrocity & the anger was still palpable months later. Two very large, formidable men, were still incandescent with rage. Poppies bought, they walked back to their car, one of them still seething & asking ‘Whose fucking country is it?’ These guys are the people that our politicians pray will just disappear & leave them to get on with their wanton destruction of all that is good in our nation. Which is why I find the sight of the ‘great & the good’ of Westminster & Whitehall, solemn masks on for a day, in their expensive dark apparel, besmirching the people’s monument to their war dead so nauseating.

One afternoon last August I was walking around Ely Cathedral. I stepped into the St.George’s chapel. No one else was there. On facing walls were large wooden panels, hinged to open out & reveal the names of even more of the War dead of Cambridgeshire & Ely. Hundreds & hundreds of names; poignantly classified underneath their parishes. For a few moments I found the sense of loss, the scale, quite stunning. Similar chapels & memorials exist all over our country. What could we have been if these men had lived, worked, created, invented, reproduced? The cathedral was so quiet. Through windows you could see sunlit fenland. I could have been in the first quarter of the last century. Nothing of the 21st century seemed to impinge.The names of the dead, recently recorded in gold paint, barely having had time to gather dust. So much of our past has been maligned, mocked, re-written, quietly erased by deluded, often evil ‘progressives’, for their own nefarious ends. Our achievements downgraded to the point where we’re now supposed to feel nothing but shame. I don’t want to see another part of our collective history go down the memory hole as we slip further into the borderless barbaric hell the nation-wrecking globalists are concocting. Already the police have said they can no longer attend Remembrance parades, although I’ve sold a lot of poppies to rank & file coppers this year, so this directive comes down from their Common Purpose superiors. The NUT, of course, has voted to push the White Poppy Pledge agenda in the schools, although this year I’ve delivered traditional poppy boxes to seven schools in my area, as requested, so there seems to be some resistance.

The majority* of Poppy sellers are quietly standing up for the preservation of our identity, our cultural heritage; for two weeks a presence on the streets & at the stations during these ominous times when the patriotic British are under the cosh. Who we still are; not who we were. Lest we forget.

*I say the ‘majority’ because a certain group are making themselves available for recruitment as poppy seller teams, & I, for one, am a little suspicious of their motives. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I have seen some odd & rather unconvincing characters wearing poppy lanyards & holding contribution buckets. I’ll perhaps comment on this at a later date, when I know more.

© Joe Williams 2017