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This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time.

November 10, 2013


This article is by  Harry Leslie Smith and originally appeared in The Guardian…

Over the last 10 years the sepia tone of November has become blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders. The most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts.

The American civil war’s General Sherman once said that “war is hell“, but unfortunately today’s politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good.

Still, this year I shall wear the poppy as I have done for many years. I wear it because I am from that last generation who remember a war that encompassed the entire world. I wear the poppy because I can recall when Britain was actually threatened with a real invasion and how its citizens stood at the ready to defend her shores.

But most importantly, I wear the poppy to commemorate those of my childhood friends and comrades who did not survive the second world war and those who came home physically and emotionally wounded from horrific battles that no poet or journalist could describe.

However, I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world.

I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one’s right to privacy.

Come 2014 when the government marks the beginning of the first world war with quotes from Rupert Brooke, Rudyard Kipling and other great jingoists from our past empire, I will declare myself a conscientious objector.

We must remember that the historical past of this country is not like an episode of Downton Abbey where the rich are portrayed as thoughtful, benevolent masters to poor folk who need the guiding hand of the ruling classes to live a proper life.

I can tell you it didn’t happen that way because I was born nine years after the first world war began. I can attest that life for most people was spent in abject poverty where one laboured under brutal working conditions for little pay and lived in houses not fit to kennel a dog today.

We must remember that the war was fought by the working classes who comprised 80% of Britain’s population in 1913.

This is why I find that the government’s intention to spend £50m to dress the slaughter of close to a million British soldiers in the 1914-18 conflict as a fight for freedom and democracy profane.

Too many of the dead, from that horrendous war, didn’t know real freedom because they were poor and were never truly represented by their members of parliament.

My uncle and many of my relatives died in that war and they weren’t officers or NCOs; they were simple Tommies. They were like the hundreds of thousands of other boys who were sent to their slaughter by a government that didn’t care to represent their citizens if they were working poor and under-educated.

My family members took the king’s shilling because they had little choice, whereas many others from similar economic backgrounds were strong-armed into enlisting by war propaganda or press-ganged into military service by their employers.

For many of you 1914 probably seems like a long time ago but I’ll be 91 next year, so it feels recent. Today, we have allowed monolithic corporate institutions to set our national agenda.

We have allowed vitriol to replace earnest debate and we have somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that wealth is wisdom. But by far the worst error we have made as a people is to think ourselves as taxpayers first and citizens second.

Next year, I won’t wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilised state for the working and middle classes.

If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn’t be left to die on the battleground of modern life.


Harry Leslie Smith is a survivor of the Great Depression, a second world war RAF veteran and at 90 an activist for the poor and for the preservation of social democracy. He has authored numerous books about Britain during the Great Depression, the second world war and postwar austerity.



21 Comments leave one →
  1. TB Queensland permalink
    November 11, 2013 10:31 am


    Goose bumps!

    Lest We Really Forget!

  2. Tom of Melbourne permalink
    November 11, 2013 1:30 pm

    I think he’s nailed it.

  3. egg permalink
    November 11, 2013 1:47 pm

    Keating’s speech today was enlightening.

  4. IPA permalink
    November 11, 2013 3:10 pm

    “My family members took the king’s shilling because they had little choice, whereas many others from similar economic backgrounds were strong-armed into enlisting by war propaganda or press-ganged into military service by their employers.”

    That may have been the case in Britain, whereas Australian WW1 soldiers were volunteers.

  5. TB Queensland permalink
    November 11, 2013 6:00 pm

    That may have been the case in Britain, whereas Australian WW1 soldiers were volunteers.

    And then they ran out! 🙄

    Conscription was put to bed twice!

    Aussies earnt 15/- a day according to the book I’m reading … a lot of money!
    (from the book I’m reading)

    That’s £5 5s a week!

    50 years later … by contrast … as an apprentice welder in 1964, I earned, £7 15s 6d a week, in first year … I switched later that year to apprentice motor mechanic @ £5 7s 6d

    Mechanics earned around £18 – £20 (from memory).

  6. November 11, 2013 6:28 pm

    Very powerful article

    Fallen Fodder for ideologies agenda.
    We send our sons and daughters to fight the politicians wars fueled by capitalists plying trade from the misery and suffering. Rarely do we fight for freedom, rather greedom. Oppression is the by product of a vicious cycle of power lust.

    At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them…the fallen of supreme sacrifice;
    But will we remember not to repeat the mistakes that put them there in the first place? Lest we forget….. “Peace”
    The biggest Oxymoron in history “The Great War”

    I have the utmost respect and admiration for the ADF and anyone who devotes themselves to the cause of national service.. Morons that use the military, the politicians, the Haliburtons, the GE’s the Lobbyists who would promote war for profit and nationalism under the guise of freedom over the less profitable option of diplomacy. How many people died for Oil just recently? Lest we forget them.

  7. egg permalink
    November 11, 2013 6:38 pm

    ‘How many people died for Oil just recently?’

    I don’t have an exact figure.

  8. November 11, 2013 6:56 pm

    At the risk of upsetting TB, I’m well sick and tired of all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds Poppy Day, Anzac Day and whatever other day that glorifies the bombing of other countries and the so-called “glorification” of those young people who were forced to kill other people or be killed themselves.

    I’m especially sick and tired of all the feigned solemn faces of politicians whenever we get the news that a digger gets shot down overseas…

    Yes it’s all terribly sad, but where’s the sympathy for those who return home with PSTD forever traumatised for the grotesque acts they’ve been forced to commit, after being brainwashed and dehumanised to regard others as mere objects to be mowed down in a hail of bullets.

    No, I won’t be buying a fkn poppy, just like I haven’t bought one ever, nor will I be going to any dawn parade to get all teary-eyed over people I’ve never met nor known, despite what they may or may not have achieved in the past.

    In saying that, neither will I be going to Cronulla beach draped in the Australian flag to bash a few wogs or spicks despite the silent encouragement from former Prime Minster the disgusting despicable ageing rodent and the not-so-silent cheering on from that bitter old closet queen Alan Jones.

  9. egg permalink
    November 11, 2013 6:56 pm

    It was close to a million lives lost, including many children in the aftermath. Oil export is fairly secure these days.

  10. Tom of Melbourne permalink
    November 11, 2013 7:27 pm

    Someone’s grumpy

  11. TB Queensland permalink
    November 11, 2013 7:36 pm

    At the risk of upsetting TB

    Not at all … most ex-servicemen and women will agree with your sentiments … there is no celebration from them … just remembrance of friends present or past … its not about glorification or pomp and ceremony for them … if they attend services or parades its for their mates or mate’s families …

    One of the most stupid “urban myths” is that Diggers (in particular) fight for King/Queen/Country … most soldiers, sailors and air-force personnel that I know, or have read about, fight for each other … that’s how they stay alive …

    When someone asked my training corporal if he had ever been in a firefight in Vietnam he said “yes” … and I found a big fucking fallen tree, stuck my rifle over the top and just kept firing and hoped the pricks would fuck off!”

    Anyway I think, Harry Leslie Smith , nailed it for most of us … like him, I’m happy to remember my two mates who never came back from VN … and I enjoy meeting up once a year with people I worked with over 40 years ago … and with my son’s mates, he served in the same corps as me.

    Civvies never really get it anyway. So you won’t upset me, sreb … I think you have a reasonable take on the crap that surrounds both days … I confess I am looking forward to visiting Long Tan … one of the most amazing actions the Australian Army was ever engaged in …

  12. TB Queensland permalink
    November 11, 2013 7:44 pm

    I’m happy to remember my two mates who never came back from VN

    What fkn stupid sentence! Of course I’m not “happy” … but I don’t need the “pomp and ceremony” to do it!

  13. November 11, 2013 7:59 pm

    That’s okay TB. You may remember your mates who never came back from Vietnam…

    I remember my mates who committed suicide because their parents dis-owned them for being gay, I remember the friends I’ve lost to drug overdoses, and others who took their own lives because they just couldn’t cope…

    This is still going on. And if the stats are anything to go by, it’s only going to get worse…

  14. November 11, 2013 11:02 pm

    That`s a great rant by Harry.

    ‘ ‘ ‘We must remember that the war was fought by the working classes’ ‘ ‘
    ‘ ‘ ‘At the risk of upsetting TB,’ ‘ ‘
    l`m agreeing with reb @ 6.56, 100%
    ‘ ‘ ‘The biggest Oxymoron in history “The Great War’ ‘ ‘
    Ricky, Mr-Rabbit Rhodes `Scholar` is in contention for the title.

  15. November 11, 2013 11:15 pm

    ‘ ‘ ‘How many people died for Oil just recently?’ ‘ ‘

    Soon after invading lraq, teh-usa regime refused to `count` the dead civilians of lraq. When you hear about (6K) dead yank soldiers, that does not include the `twice-as-many` suicides, nor the discharged that die from their injuries. Permanently disabled yank soldiers, 60K, brain damaged, missing limbs etc, PTS-unknown. *pbs-last-month*

  16. November 12, 2013 6:00 pm

    Strangely enough, I drove about 15kms out of town yesterday to play golf in a nearby one half-a-horse shithole. There were red poppies blooming along the roadside for a few kilometres; I’ve never seen that down here before…perhaps I’ve never taken that particular drive at this time of year. Spooky.

    I can sympathise with both reb’s & TB’s comments on this thread. My own views probably more closely mirror reb’s.
    Personally, there is no way I would allow my person to be used to project violence for the State or the whims & machinations of the political class. I feel for anyone who’s ever been shoehorned into such a position against their will. If people want to go & kill or be killed out of some misplaced sense of King/God/Country, and by that I mean those who willingly sign up for war, then I say fuck them; you reap what you sew. I hate compulsory false reverence; I am immune to it.

  17. November 12, 2013 6:13 pm

    “I hate compulsory false reverence; I am immune to it.”

    I agree.

    And in fact, I think the recent “resurgence” in “popularity” of Australians “commemorating” ANZAC Day (etc) has more to do with making those people “feel good about themselves” for a few hours than it does about actually remembering those who were killed fighting.

    I mean, it does feel nice to wave a flag for an hour so doesn’t it. It makes you feel like you’re really a part of something…. 🙄

  18. November 12, 2013 6:20 pm

    My read of it is that our national history is so short that Eurocentric fuckheads like John Howard resorted to overhyping ANZAC Day etc to give ‘National Identity’ a shot in the arm.

    It plays well with the jingosturbating flagwavers & gives ignorant, ocker morons with no literacy, let alone a passing take on history something to hang their hat on.

    This bastardises the actual horror of war for political purposes. Both sides do it. It’s the ‘in’ thing now.

    I don’t mean any of this to detract from the unimaginable, life-warping experience of all of those who’ve found themselves being used to wave swords or fire bullets at the behest of their ‘betters’.

  19. TB Queensland permalink
    November 12, 2013 6:22 pm

    It makes you feel like you’re really a part of something….

    Especially the pollies … most of whom would faint if a bullet whizzed over their heads … closest I ever got to it was holding a bloody target up in the air on the rifle range … most unnerving … and it was on what seemed to be a very short pole and I was standing in a PIT!

  20. November 12, 2013 6:31 pm

    Well said Boss…

    I refuse to participate in the said “glorification” nor the mutual feigned “we care” collective populism.

  21. November 12, 2013 9:03 pm

    Yeah Dunny, l agree,
    John-W did ramp up the flag waving jingo, in teh-usa style particularly. l suspect he also did this to insert himself deeper with his `buddy` george-w and their march of war. l find teh-usa style of screaming hysteric `national-pride` quite sickening, and l wish troll-media and the canberra clowns would desist doing it. There is little if anything that teh-usa does, that we need Aust flooded with.

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