Only fascists would force others to wear a poppy


By Allison Morris (for Irish News)

The annual poppy police hysteria kicked off again this week with the hunt on to find someone who caused offence - not by what they did but what they didn't do.

This year it was 23-year-old soccer player James McClean who discovered freedom of choice is no choice at all as the usual suspects queued up to berate the Sunderland player over his decision not to wear a poppy on his shirt.

A club spokesman defended the actions of the young Derry footballer but Gregory Campbell wasn't going to miss an opportunity to throw his yearly hissy fit.

I have previously used this column to say why I do not and will not wear a poppy.

My grandfather Tommy Morris was a Second World War veteran.

Having survived the war and the cruelty of a Japanese concentration camp, Tommy returned to a Northern Ireland lorded over by Brookeborough who famously said he wouldn't have a Catholic about the place.

When he died later, from a heart weakened by years of starvation and torture, his wife, my grandmother Hannah, was refused a war widow's pension as the army said it couldn't be proved his premature death was as a result of his service.

Unlike hundreds of Northern Irish Catholics, Tommy hadn't specifically joined the army to fight against Hitler. He already was a long-serving soldier.

In fact he had joined the British army in peacetime at the age of 18, his military records show by virtue of his service he was well travelled.

When war was declared Tommy was by then a member of the Territorial Army and so was recalled.

I never got to meet him and he talked little of his experiences to his children, therefore I've no idea why a teenager from the lower Falls area of Belfast decided to join the British army but he was by all accounts a willing, able and decorated soldier.

When he returned from the war weighing just over five stone, my grandmother went to meet him at RAF Aldergrove accompanied by her eldest daughter Bridie.

Bridie was to later feel the kind of heartache no mother should as a result of the actions of a soldier from the same army in which her father had so willingly spent most of his adult life serving.

In 1983 her son, who proudly carried the name of her war-hero father, was shot in the back by a member of the British Light Infantry.

The murder of Thomas 'Kidso' Reilly in west Belfast made legal history. The soldier responsible, Private Ian Thain, was convicted of murder after a lengthy trial in which the judge called both him and his superiors liars for the version of events they had fabricated to excuse his actions.

It was the first time a British soldier had been convicted of murder while on duty in the north.

Thomas had been working as a roadie for 1980s pop group Spandau Ballet shortly before his death.

A few years ago Gary Kemp, in an interview with BBCs The One Show, spoke about how the death of their roadie had inspired him to write the band's hit song Through the Barricades.

Thomas's funeral was attended by 1980s girl band Bananarama with wreaths sent from a host of celebrities, including Paul Weller.

When his killer was jailed in an act of justice rarely associated with Northern Ireland's courts at the height of the Troubles, the Reilly family went back to dealing with their loss privately.

Two years later a documentary crew contacted the military prison in England where Private Thain was meant to be serving a life sentence in the hope of securing an interview only to find he had been spirited out of prison after just 22-months and was back with his regiment.

My father's sister accepted this injustice with quiet dignity but she was broken and died 10 years later with a sore and heavy heart.

And so the decision to wear or not wear a poppy for many in Northern Ireland is a complicated one with families such as mine full of contradictions and complicated pasts.

I commend James McClean for expressing his freedom of choice.

To be forced to wear any symbol against your will is nothing more than fascism.

My grandfather Tommy experienced things that no human should have to endure, and so I don't wear a poppy in memory of one great man's sacrifice and the needless loss of the grandson that bore his name.

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