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Remembrance Day: Bromley pacifists explain the white poppy wreath they have been laying at the war memorial for three decades

PUBLISHED: 18:00 01 November 2013 | UPDATED: 11:30 04 November 2013

(L-R) Ann Garrett (secretary of Bromley and Beckenham CND), Janette Mitchell (secretary of Orpington Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) and Joanne Gillmon

(L-R) Ann Garrett (secretary of Bromley and Beckenham CND), Janette Mitchell (secretary of Orpington Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) and Joanne Gillmon

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Poppies will be a familiar sight to everyone at this time of year - but not all of them are red. Ann Garrett of Bromley and Beckenham CND told the Bromley Times about the white poppy and why she marches for peace each year.

The wreath contains a cross for peace, a pair of peace doves, peace lillies and both red and white poppiesThe wreath contains a cross for peace, a pair of peace doves, peace lillies and both red and white poppies

Ann Garrett, of Bromley and Beckenham Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), has been marching for peace since 1959 – and she’s not yet tired.

Like many, Ann processes to the Martin’s Hill war memorial in Church Road, Bromley each Remembrance Sunday.

But the poppy wreath she takes to the obelisk stands out – because, unlike the flowers carpeting McCrae’s Flanders fields, they’re bright white.

“We place the emphasis on negotiation rather than going into wars and trying to sort out other countries’ problems,” said Ann.

(L-R) Janette Mitchell (secretary of Orpington Women's International League for Peace and Freedom), Ann Garrett (secretary of Bromley and Beckenham CND) and Joanne Gillmon(L-R) Janette Mitchell (secretary of Orpington Women's International League for Peace and Freedom), Ann Garrett (secretary of Bromley and Beckenham CND) and Joanne Gillmon

“We wear red poppies as well, out of respect – we’re not out to ostracise people who are involved in the military – but we emphasise it’s important to have a culture of peace rather than a culture of war.”

The first white poppies were manufactured and sold by the Co-operative Women’s Guild 80 years ago, with the Peace Pledge Union picking up the campaign the following year.

Today, the symbol is linked to a range of groups, including the national CND, the Church, and environmental movements.

Ann’s journey toward peace began on CND’s first annual march from Aldemaston to London in 1959.

Building the wreath: Joanne Gillmon (R) with Ann GarrettBuilding the wreath: Joanne Gillmon (R) with Ann Garrett

“I really campaigned against nuclear weapons,” said Ann. “I was so devastated by all the information that came out about the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that after that march I kept on campaigning.

“I joined Bromley and Beckenham CND in the early 1980s and took over the role of secretary from John Pitt, who began Bromley’s white poppy ceremony in 1980.”

Historically, the movement has been the subject of controversy. In 1986, Margaret Thatcher condemned the white poppy in Parliament after a question from Salisbury MP Robert Key.

But Ann’s intention isn’t to provoke.

The laying of the wreath

The peace wreath will be laid on the war memorial at 10.50am on Sunday, November 10.

Anyone wishing to join the procession should assemble at the side of Primark in Bromley High Street, where the march begins.

The wreath, which includes a cross, a pair of peace doves, peace lilies, and both red and white poppies, was built by Ann, Joanne Gillmon and Janette Mitchell, who is secretary of the Orpington Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

“We work out a way to make it look different each year,” explained Joanne.

“We spend hours doing it because we’re thinking about what we’re doing, and [remembering] this is for peace.”

“I’m very careful when I see people selling red poppies,” said Ann. “I won’t go and sell white poppies beside them. We’re not into doing that.

“We prefer to be non-confrontational and respectful.

“A lot of people who sell red poppies were involved in fighting against fascism. There are differences of opinion within the peace movement – some people think the last war needed to be fought whereas the First World War was a politicians’ war.”

The movement was founded between the wars, but Ann believes it has as much primacy today as ever.

“CND has got very disillusioned over the years with the way the culture of war has been promoted,” she said, “and such things as the interventionist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – which have not brought peace to those countries, but led to a horrific loss of life.

“These are the things that make us angry. Although we’re promoting peace, underneath there’s a real underlying concern and disillusionment with a world that seems to be selling more arms and making money out of the arms trade.”

Click the links to the top-right of this story to watch videos about the making of the white poppy wreath and more exclusive interviews with Bromley pacifists.

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