Letters: Tower poppies will endure as a fitting tribute

These letters appear in the November 11 edition of The Independent

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The Tower poppies (“From the Cenotaph to Kandahar, war dead are honoured”, 10 November) have indeed touched the public.

Hoping to avoid crowds, I cycled down on Sunday soon after dawn, yet before 7am there were thousands around the moat.

There was a great silence. People stood awed, not only the children of the 1939-45 era, but the younger, realising that what looked at first like a deep red sea of blood was composed of representations of every serviceman and woman killed, too vast to be seen at a glance, extending way beyond the corner bastions of the fortress.

We see names on war memorials, scores of them in cities, dozens in villages, wall upon wall of them on the Thiepval arch commemorating those who died at the Somme. Nameless, they were flowing around the Tower, a shattering reminder that death had undone so many.

How impressed were we? How do we react to such an event these days? We photograph it with our phones. We commemorate not only it but also our participation in it. We pose in front of it, being snapped or squinting into selfies. A beaming woman held up her white poodle in front of the vast poignancy of the First World War dead. A group beside me reviewed their iPad: “But there are no smiling ones! Oh, but we must have a smiling one.” They rectified the omission, grinning into the lens as if it had been Blackpool Tower behind them, not the pity of war.

Yet there were many who stood awed and thoughtful, far, far longer, than the stipulated two-minute silences of Remembrance Sunday and 11 November. We will remember these poppies long after they have been uprooted and the sun shines on the grass, just as, eventually, nature returned to the trenched and cratered landscapes of France and Flanders, and life picked itself up, brushed itself down and carried on, leaving nothing but the memory behind.

Peter Forster
London N4


It’s disgraceful that once again the Remembrance Sunday commemoration at London’s Cenotaph gave religion a privileged role. As usual, part of the event was conducted as a religious service, with a Church of England bishop leading a hymn and prayer. Representatives of more than a dozen different religious denominations were present, but atheists have never been invited.

The Cenotaph, which dates from 1920, was deliberately designed as a secular state monument bearing no religious symbols in recognition of the wide diversity of the fallen. The same should apply to the annual ceremony. It should be a fully inclusive occasion.

R M Atkinson


The Government is too spineless to be green

It comes as no surprise that this Government will miss targets for the reduction of carbon emissions (“UK carbon emissions: the stench of missed targets”, 10 November). It is far too spineless to provide the required leadership.

By far the cheapest form of renewable energy is onshore wind. The Government has, in effect, halted its development, in fear of losing the votes of a wealthy minority who care more about their local scenery, which is unlikely to incorporate a coal-fired power station (as mine does). Instead, they hand taxpayers’ cash to the coal-burners.

Road transport is the environmental elephant ignored by politicians, especially those who think they know better than the global scientific community, or who simply prefer to leave the coming catastrophe for their successors to deal with.

Ian East
Islip, Oxfordshire


What message would that be, Ed?

You quote Lucy Powell, who was promoted last week to help run Labour’s election campaign, as challenging Ed Miliband’s critics to “show us your colours and put names to quotes” or else allow the party to get back to its campaigning message (“Miliband ally tells unnamed critics to put up or shut up”, 10 November).

I am a committed member of the Labour Party, but I must ask Ms Powell and Mr Miliband, what campaigning message? If there is one, it is not getting through to party members or the general public. Something needs to be done.

Patricia Jean Morris


Why isn’t the UK doing more for Syrians?

It is extremely concerning that only 24 Syrians fleeing the civil war have been allowed to come to Britain since the UK declined to participate in the broader UN resettlement programme (“UN: world faces largest refugee crisis in decades”, 4 November).

Evidence of human rights violations, including torture, in Syria is overwhelming. Earlier this year, a report evidenced the depths of the Syrian regime’s brutality, and the US Holocaust Museum is now displaying the photographic evidence of deaths. Human Rights Watch has released evidence of the torture of children by Isis forces.

We believe that Syrian children and adults made vulnerable by torture are still not accessing appropriate protection, treatment and support. Many would have a right to refuge in international law, including in the UK, under the Refugee Convention, and to rehabilitation under the UN Convention Against Torture. The UK has ratified both these conventions and should act accordingly.

Susan Munroe
Chief executive, Freedom from Torture
London N7


Take a French lesson on school discipline

David Felton (letter, 5 November), having spent a large part of his adult life working in teacher training, holds that the role of a schoolteacher should be to educate children, rather than to instil discipline where parents have failed.

I was fortunate enough to spend a year as a student in the Paris suburbs many years ago. Teachers taught their subjects, generally without the need to play power games with the pupils. If there was any need for the exercise of disciplinary measures, this was the function of special non-teaching staff, called surveillants.

It should have been the duty of British civil servants, ministers and Mr Felton’s colleagues in teacher training to keep abreast of best-practice in the rest of the world. How they seem to have been ignorant of the surveillant system of our closest neighbour defies belief.

Ben Marshall
London N11


Private education isn’t always expensive

The new head of the University of Birmingham proclaims that he will offer an education for which you would have to pay £30,000 in the independent sector (“University state school offers ‘£30,000-a-year standards’ to pupils”, 6 November).

He knows very well that such a sum is paid at boarding schools which also provide board and lodging. The fees of this independent school are just over £11,000 and 40 per cent of the pupils here don’t even pay that much. Indeed, 15 per cent of them pay nothing at all.

John Claughton
Chief Master
King Edward’s School, Birmingham


Even the Victorians knew jail didn’t work

In 1895, a Royal Commission reporting on the efficacy of prison, in the days of harsh treatment, the capstan, the treadmill, the birch, bread and water and stone breaking, discovered that half the prisoners had come back for more. Some were back in prison more than 10 times.

Since then, it seems, nobody has taken much notice. Even the gallant Simon Hughes is 120 years adrift (“Minister denounces prison ‘madness’”, 6 November) and Chris Grayling ignores the lessons of history. When will we learn that there are much better ways of dealing with lawbreakers than locking them up?

Ted Clark
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire


How about a daily page of EU news?

With regard to us British not knowing much about the workings of the EU (letter, 7 November), could it be time for The Independent to devote a page to the subject? “Yesterday at the EU Commission”, perhaps?

We really need to know what our representatives are doing, and what plans are being made for rules or laws that will affect us.

C Richardson
Llandysul, Ceredigion


Fireworks predate Guy Fawkes

Further to your correspondence on bonfire night and fireworks, it is worth remembering that their origin has nothing at all to do with Guy Fawkes. It lies in the great Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the ending of the year and the propitious “in between time” when the Otherworld was thought to open up and the spirits of the dead return.

Unexpected bangs and lights were introduced for added effect.

Dominic Kirkham