As an international student in the UK I tried to blend in as much as I could. Part of this meant popping my coin in the tin around the beginning of November and wearing my Red Poppy as everybody else does. The Red Poppy cause is about helping veterans and I know how difficult life can be for them coming back from war, so I couldn’t see any harm in doing my bit for the Royal British Legion. And I did so for three years. You see, that’s how long it took me to realise what I actually believed as a Christian. One day it all clicked (thanks to peace theologian Michael Hardin and the Anabaptist Network UK) – the discipleship journey is nothing if our lives are not radically transformed just as much as our hearts.
If you know anything about Anabaptism or Michael’s work you may have guessed that red poppies were suddenly problematic for me. As we discussed on the SCM blog before, the Royal British Legion has been criticised for limiting remembrance to those who “fought and died in conflict”, receiving donations from weapons manufacturers, and doing nothing to prevent more people from being injured or killed in war. This was not something I could continue to support.
Being a peace-oriented Christian I decided to reclaim the original meaning of Remembrance Day as the starting point to end war, and as a St John Ambulance volunteer I also decided I needed to commemorate those in the organisation who lost their lives in war but who were not soldiers, and were thus forgotten by the Royal British Legion. To do this I decided to wear a White Poppy, which “represent(s) remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace and a challenge to attempts to glamorise or celebrate war”.
Unfortunately, as I committed myself to the Gospel of Peace by remembering conscientious objectors, war nurses and all those who said no to killing or died in a war they were not fighting, I realised that the same organisation whose “glorious dead” I was remembering only allowed people to wear Red Poppies whilst on shift. Not wanting to stir up any trouble, at first I came to an agreement with my manager which allowed my small act of witness to continue on religious grounds; but I felt that was not enough.
This year I wrote to St John Ambulance’s Standards of Dress Group Chair explaining to him that I felt allowing people to wear White Poppies would better fit our values and history as an organisation. I am happy to say that after much consultation he got back to me and informed me that the policy now allows a poppy to be worn without mandating its colour.
Sometimes our witness can start with something as small as a White Poppy or an email, and I hope more organisations will follow St John Ambulance’s lead in becoming more inclusive to those who are called to be peacemakers.
Written by Simone Ramacci, SCM Member.