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Why do Bristol Students Not Wear the Poppy?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

Although I haven’t spent all my life in the UK, I was a secondary school student in London long enough to know that with every November came a focus on the First World War in practically every subject. The poppies were everywhere. Girls by the school entrance collecting donations meant it was just a thing, and I hardly lived anywhere rural. I’ve heard that it’s even more of a cultural staple down in little villages, but coming to the student bubble of Bristol could have fooled me. 

Our campus is hardly suburban, and not even remotely rural. In my years at Bristol, I can’t actually place exactly where I would have seen someone selling poppies. Contrast that to the reading week spent at home, and the shopping centres are flooded with veterans and volunteers, and memorials explaining the detailed history of our borough. 

But is a lack of awareness the explanatory force for why we don’t see them around? Or do we view it as something different – Is wearing the poppy a political statement? In a university where so many students are left or liberal, do we associate remembering the war with glorifying the military as it is now? 

There’s not enough nuance in saying that students don’t wear poppies because they don’t see them enough, nor is there enough nuance saying that we’re all radical lefty liberals who think the poppy is a symbol of the military. 

The fact is, many students are aware that the poppy appeal is a donation to help veterans, and that no matter how much we think the military is a messed-up institution, when veterans come back homeless with mental illness, they are owed support. The prevailing image of the poppy is the elderly holding on to their traditions and remembering. Yet while we don’t have memories of being evacuated or bombed, some of the people walking the street wearing a poppy will have been through the Second World War. 

We’re not apathetic to this plight, but at a certain point, wearing a poppy doesn’t seem to make any difference. If we only remember what soldiers come back to one day of the year, change replicates, and no one is helped. 

The point of the poppies is to remember the First World War, which by all accounts wiped out entire villages in the UK. The scale was monumental. The point of the poppies is to support veterans coming home with PTSD or worse, which does not go away when the 12th of November hits. 

There’s endless research that can be done into why students don’t tend to wear the poppy, but it’s not because we don’t care about the situations veterans face. It’s not because we don’t want to bring light to the destruction war wreaks on communities. 

It may just be because the poppy appeal doesn’t have that clear message that supporting it will make any change, but it’s not that we just don’t care.

Current Politics and Philosophy undergrad    Former Lifestyle editor // Current Social Media manager 
Sarah Wilson

Bristol '19

Co-President of Her Campus Bristol