I write listening to a debate on the radio about the significance of the poppy; arguments flow in different directions but participants seem to agree that the poppy is an important symbol of sacrifice and Remembrance. My understanding of Sussex bonfires is that historically the use of effigies is to express protestation or annoyance and not as an act of agreement or reverence. National news reports of poppy burning incidents elsewhere have resulted in police prosecution [see Kent man arrested].
On Saturday afternoon, when I saw what was intended at this year’s Rye Bonfire Night, I raised the issue with officers of the Rye Bonfire Society and Sussex Police. I was assured “that the purpose of Rye Bonfire Society was to mark and remember”. I did not witness the “burning” but envisaged what might happen. In my view the national symbol of Remembrance could have been given a prominent position at the event without destroying the display.
We live in a democracy and there are differing views of Remembrance, but to burn the symbol of sacrifice and Remembrance was, at best, naive and ill-judged, at worst it was malicious. After all, it was such sacrifice that allows society to voice its opinion today.
As I was passing through the town during the event, I heard a little girl say: “Mummy, why are they going to burn the Poppy?” What a message to hand down! And quite different from that heard by the 500 or so participants , including the hundreds of young people, at the Rye Remembrance event on Sunday morning.
I do hope that next year’s effigy will return to being one of amusing, if slightly contentious, local interest to all.
Apology from bonfire society
A statement sent to Rye News by Neale East, Captain Communication of Rye Bonfire Society, said: “The tableau created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War was made in remembrance and to raise the profile of the Poppy Appeal and the good work the British Legion does. The tableau was lit by red lances only and was not exploded. This was not an effigy. Rye Bonfire was not making a protest, nor was it making any statement other than to highlight Remembrance, and we very much regret any offence this may have caused. This was certainly not the intention.” The statement concluded: “Rye Bonfire supports the Rye Branch of the Royal British Legion in helping with the Remembrance Day service organisation and through donations and will continue to do so. Again, we are sorry if having the poppy on our bonfire has caused any offence.”
The author is president of the Rye & District Royal British Legion / Photo: Tony Nunn