Remembering the key message of Remembrance Day

Opinion piece Ilford Recorder 16 November 2023

Ilford Recorder opinion page 16.11.23

I took the decision to wear a white poppy alongside my red poppy when I took part in Sunday’s Remembrance Day service at Ilford War Memorial.

A red poppy shows respect for the Royal British Legion and those who have given their lives in war.  But many may not appreciate that wearing a white poppy is a proud tradition going back 90 years.

The first white poppies were produced in 1933 by members of the Women’s Cooperative Guild. Many had lost family and friends in World War l. They wanted to hold onto the key message of Remembrance Day: ‘Never again.’ This goes beyond mere commemoration. It aims to ensure those who made such sacrifices did not do so in vain.

White poppies stand for three things:

Remembrance of all victims, including civilians, people of every stripe, refugees, and those killed in wars happening now as well as in the past; Emphasising the importance of resisting war and its causes and questioning its justification; Highlighting the devastating human cost of war and the urgency of finding non-violent solutions.

My contribution, as the Humanist representative, was spoken alongside contributions from local religious and political leaders, and the Christian chaplain who leads the service. I was given the privilege of writing the words I use when I took part in my first Redbridge Remembrance Day service as humanist chaplain to the then mayor in 2021: “Every human life is precious, whatever our religion or belief. Let us use this day to remind ourselves of our common humanity, and pledge to do all we can to live alongside each other in peace and to avoid the scourge of war.”

The ‘elephant in the room’ at this year’s services was the Gaza conflict. Our political leaders have rightly condemned the Hamas atrocities. Their vicious Charter targets me both because I’m a Jew and because I’m an atheist.  I am equally horrified by the killing and maiming of civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure inflicted by Israel. It pains me that the same leaders have, at the time of writing this piece, failed to put any limit on the number of civilians, children, UN staff, charity workers and journalists they are prepared to see killed in the onslaught.

I question whether they have grasped the key message of Remembrance Day.

Paul Kaufman
Chairperson East London H

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