Why I’m laying a wreath of white poppies on Remembrance Day

Fred Bradford and Arthur Whybird

Fred Bradford and Arthur Whybird

The two young men in the photo are my great uncles, Fred Bradford and Arthur Whybird. They both died, aged 19 and 21 respectively, in the Battle of the Somme.

Because both my grandmothers had lost a much-loved brother in the First World War, I grew up with a strong sense of war as a terrible tragedy.

Even 60 years on, my grannies still grieved over their brothers’ deaths.  When my brother and I went through a phase of reading war comics and playing war games, our granny was quick to tell us that there was no excitement in war and it really wasn’t suitable to treat as a game.

Of course it wasn’t just our family that was afflicted.  Fred and Arthur were two of 1,265,000 men who died on the Somme (420,000 British, 195,000 French and 650,000 Germans).

And the Somme was only one battle in the First World War. Estimates of the total number killed in that war range widely, but 15 million seems to be about the average. That’s 15 million mostly young lives lost, and millions of parents, wives, brothers, sisters and sweethearts left shocked and grieving.

A century of wars

World War 1 laid the foundations of World War 2 (estimates of WW2 casualties range from 50 million to more than 80 million), and on through the Cold War to the so-called War on Terror, making the 20th century a century of bloodshed and death.

Historians estimate that something like 160 million people died in wars during the 20th century – with many times more civilians killed than military personnel. The 21st century has started the same way.

Remembrance Day

This Sunday we will remember all the people who have been killed, wounded or traumatised by war at Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Remembrance Day is always a moving occasion and a chance to reflect on these things. Yet I often find myself wishing there was more of a focus on preventing wars of the future as well as remembering those in the past.

So I was pleased when Reigate and Redhill CND asked me to lay their wreath of white poppies on the war memorial during this year’s ceremony at Shaw’s Corner, Redhill.

White poppies have been used to commemorate the war dead and call for an end to wars since 1933.  They reflect our sadness in our inability to settle conflicts without resorting to killing and are a symbol of our grief for everybody harmed by war. 

When I lay the white wreath on Sunday I will be thinking of my great uncles and the countless others who lost their lives in wars, while expressing my commitment to work for a world where conflicts will be resolved without violence and with justice.

I think the best way I can pay my respects to my great uncles, my grandmothers, and all the families who have lost loved ones in more recent wars is by doing what I can to work for a world without war.

Because there is a better way of resolving conflict than killing and destruction – talking and negotiations. As Winston Churchill said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”.


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  1. Ann
    Posted Monday, 18 November 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Sarah, for bringing this to our attention. I wish I’d known about white poppies earlier. Still, there’s always next year. BBC Radio 3 broadcast a programme about ‘Cultural Conchies’ yesterday (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03hk7r1). I haven’t heard it yet but it says on the website that the PPU was founded by Vera Brittain, Baroness Shirley Williams’ mother. Interesting.

    I was just wondering – what is the significance of the single red poppy in the white wreath?

    • Councillor Sarah Finch
      Posted Monday, 18 November 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Ann, and thank you for the link to the Cultural Conchies programme – I will listen to that.

      I think the red poppy is just to say that we do support the British Legion in their work on behalf of veterans and the white poppy is not meant as a snub to them. I wore a red and a white poppy this year, as did many others.

      • Ann
        Posted Tuesday, 19 November 2013 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for your swift reply Sarah. I assume you meant to type that the white poppy is NOT meant as a snub to the British Legion? Seems like a good idea to wear a red and a white poppy.

        • Councillor Sarah Finch
          Posted Tuesday, 19 November 2013 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

          Oops! Yes I did mean NOT. Thanks for spotting that, I will correct it.

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