Above: my father and uncle in uniform during the second world war
I wore my poppy with pride today, as Britain marked Remembrance Day.
On Friday, the 93rd anniversary of Armistice Day (11.11.11), I left my office in Richmond to walk to the Poppy Factory, the place where remembrance poppies are made for people in Britain and many other Commonwealth countries. The modern entrance stood in stark contrast to the original building, built soon after the end of the Great War.
Above: Richmond's Poppy Factory
The last veterans of the Great War have passed away in recent years. Yet there are still some very old people alive who lost a father in that terrible conflict. The Guardian yesterday interviewed several, in a very moving feature. As Donald Overall, 98, said, "I'm an old man, I am supposed to be tough. I thought I was hard but I'm not. He's my dad and I miss him." The killing fields of Flanders exert a powerful emotional pull down the years.
My grandmother (born 1891) and her siblings lived through terrible times. The two world wars left millions dead and injured, while economic depression and recession blighted many other lives. How lucky we are by contrast.
The poppy appeal is a simple call to commemorate the dead of the great and small wars alike, while helping today's veterans. Yet my father, Bob Skinner, who served in the army during the second world war, is uneasy at the way this quiet tradition is becoming a compulsory exercise in sentimentality. He asks whether BBC newsreaders would be allowed to go on screen without a poppy. Political correctness has taken over. Bob hasn't worn a poppy for several years.
I'm also uneasy. I was appalled by the undignified argument between England's Football Association and FIFA over whether players could wear a poppy on their shirts during a game. FIFA's view that it was a political symbol was as crass as the FA's totally inappropriate aggressive stance. It's significant that these arguments are raging now, over 70 years after the end of the second world war, and not in the immediate aftermath of those great wars. This is the era of Daily Mail intolerance of alternative opinions - especially ones that are critical of the military. Back in 1921, when the first poppy appeal took place, no one would think to glorify war. The object was to mourn, to commemorate and to help survivors. Almost a century later, Britain is much less likely to criticise its warriors, their leaders or the decision to send them to war. As a result, we've been involved in wars that have nothing to do with us for well over a decade.