by Sara Helen Binney
It was November, and the school hall was packed with pupils and teachers freed from lessons. In the festive atmosphere people mingled and chattered and joked. A few nervously practiced their Bible readings; I stood, arms crossed, before a school administrator. She shook her collection box.
‘Poppy?’ she said. It wasn’t a question.
I said, ‘no.’ I doubt I was very polite – I was sixteen, angry and definite.
‘You have to wear a poppy, for the service,’ she said.
‘Why?’ I demanded.
‘Everyone has to wear a poppy.’
‘But I don’t agree with it. Can’t I refuse?’
‘You have to take a poppy – just make a donation.’
Neither of my parents had ever worn a poppy. They brought me up listening to the anti-war songs of the folk revival, and took me to CND marches while I still struggled to pronounce ‘disarmament’. But at school, saying no wasn’t an option. I eventually put a penny in the box.