Outrage over white poppies on Remembrance Sunday wreaths

Outrage over white poppies on Remembrance Sunday as senior military figures say ‘hard-left political symbol’ is an ‘insult to Britain’s war dead’

  • Leicester University laid 50 wreaths which included both red and white poppies
  • The university said inclusions of white poppies reflected commitment to peace 
  • Military personnel said the use of white poppies devalued meaning of red poppy 

A university has come under fire for including white poppies in its Remembrance wreaths because veterans fear it will devalue the red poppy as a symbol of the fallen.

Students and staff from Leicester University laid more than 50 poppy wreaths across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland in recognition of the local people who made sacrifices during the First World War.

The wreaths which were laid as part of a ‘poppy pilgrimage’ contained both red and white poppies.

The university said the wreaths contained white poppies to represent ‘a commitment to peace and in finding non-violent solutions to conflicts’.

Leicester University has come under fire for including white poppies in Remembrance wreaths because veterans fear it will devalue the red poppy as a symbol of the fallen (stock picture)

It comes after the BBC said it would permit its presenters to wear white poppies on air if they choose to do so. 

In a statement, the university said: ‘The red poppy, which recalls the horrors of the Western Front in the First World War, is a well-known and well-established symbol of support for the Armed Forces community and Remembrance for lives lost in all conflicts.

‘Some of the wreaths laid in the region included white poppies, which represent a commitment to peace and in finding non-violent solutions to conflicts.’

But military figures have condemned the decision to include white poppies and said it is an insult to those who lost their life in war.

Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan, told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘The white poppy is intended to undermine the sacrifice the red poppy seeks to commemorate.

‘Use of the red poppy is a means of showing respect and gratitude to British and Allied troops who gave their lives fighting for their country and is entirely apolitical. The white poppy is a political symbol used by anti-war campaigners.

‘It is sold only to raise funds for their propaganda campaigns. It purports to commemorate all who suffered in war and so applies equally to Nazi stormtroopers and Islamic State murderers and rapists.’

‘Intertwining the hard Left political symbol of white poppies into wreaths of red poppies is a direct insult to our war dead.’

Critics say the white poppy is a political symbol of the left and that it devalues the sacrifice made by soldiers who gave their lives and who are commemorated by the use of red poppies 

Lord Richard Dannatt, former chief of the General Staff, told the newspaper there was room to recognise the sacrifice of civilians in wartime but that use of the white poppy would detract from the remembrance of soldiers that had died in defence of their country.

The university’s Poppy Pilgrimage was observed with wreaths laid outside the Fielding Johnson Building.

Fielding Johnson, named for University founding benefactor Thomas Fielding Johnson, was the first building used by Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland University College in 1921, and served as a military hospital during the First World War. 

According to the Peace Pledge Union, white poppies stand for remembrance for all victims of war, both military and civilian, of all nationalities, as well as a commitment to peace and a challenge to any attempt to glamorise war. 

Kerry Law, Chief Marketing & Engagement Officer at the University of Leicester, said: ‘Our Poppy Pilgrimage serves as a fitting tribute to the founding legacy of our University, and has allowed us to once again recognise the sacrifices made in our region.

‘At the laying of each wreath, members of our community have repeated the words of University founder Dr Astley Clarke: ‘Let us, therefore, offer Higher Education as our war memorial.’

In 2020 the University was awarded Gold Award status by the Ministry of Defence for its support of the Armed Forces community, which includes partnerships with local Reserve units and permanent membership of the East Midlands Universities Combined Military Education Committee.

The University is also committed to supporting former service personnel in their transition to civilian life through schemes like the Armed Forces into Allied Health project, which simplifies the process for veterans to transfer military qualifications in order to enter health disciplines.

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