- By Mark Simmons, CEO of Cord

This time last year, the Tower of London was a sea of ceramic poppies to commemorate those who died in World War I, and I wrote a blog about the tragic irony of the Treaty of Versailles, and about how by treating people with dignity we can bring about justice and end violence and poverty. 

This year, the poppy has divided opinion. Some have complained that there is too much social pressure to buy a poppy; David Cameron famously had one photo-shopped onto his suit in a futile attempt to avoid embarrassment. And during his state visit, the Chinese president complained that the poppy is a symbol of British oppression and exploitation during the opium wars.

The poppy as a symbol of remembrance comes originally from John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders’ Fields”.

McCrae was struck by the hardiness of Flanders' poppies, and about how quickly these striking and delicate flowers could grow in fields which had been left otherwise barren by war. So although now a symbol of remembrance, the poppy was chosen because it symbolises resilience and rebirth. McCrae’s poem was popularised by Moira Michael’s subsequent poem “We Shall Keep the Faith”, in which she promises to wear a poppy to honour those who sacrificed their lives and to remind us of the lessons we should learn from war. Although the poppy had been used in Roman times to symbolise the dead, both poets had experienced the horrors of war, and neither subscribed to Horace’s ode that it is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country. They wanted us to be resilient and to be reborn, but at the same to reflect and remember.

The cornflower also continued to grow while Flanders, Picardy and the Valley of the Somme were being laid waste. Like the poppy, the cornflower is delicate, and in the language of flowers it symbolises innocence.

It took on a particular poignancy in France, because bright blue was reminiscent of the uniforms of young French troops, and even when those uniforms became soiled or stained or faded, the cornflower remained vivid. After the war, wounded survivors made and sold cornflower badges from tissue paper, and the cornflower became a symbol of rehabilitation. These are still worn in France today.

There is nothing glorious or romantic about violent conflict, and there should be nothing hollow in the way in which we remember or commemorate the immense sacrifices made by so many. We can respect those who died even if we struggle to respect those who sent them to die.

But as well as wearing our poppies and cornflowers, we can as our own act of remembrance do all we can to encourage and work towards rehabilitation and resilience, so that peaceful and inclusive societies can flourish, however devastated the land from which they grow.