Last year the 26 million poppies sold in the appeal raised £30 million for the Royal British Legion’s charitable work. Politicians and TV personalities compete over who can be seen earliest wearing a poppy for fear of being picked on by the tabloids as some kind of national traitor for daring to be seen without one. This year is no different, apart from the outrage being expressed at having some of the billboards subverted to call for the troops to be brought safely home and for Tony Blair to be prosecuted for his role in sending them out to invade first Afghanistan and then Iraq.
The BBC and the Telegraph report it as 'protesters attacking former prime minister Tony Blair's war record', not a bad way to extrapolate from the two words 'Prosecute Blair'. Their article quotes a spokesman for the Royal British Legion saying, "We do understand that the current campaign in Afghanistan and the recent activities in Iraq are not popular universally in the country. Opinion is divided but we do find that the public is four-square behind our British Armed Forces who are out there representing their country and making sacrifices."
The Daily Mail label it a 'mark of disrespect' and quote a passer by as saying, "It was so cleverly done I thought for a moment the British Legion had suddenly become political'. However the Royal British Legion this time are quoted dismissing the 'vandalism' as a 'bit of fun' - "We would say to whoever did this that we hope they feel they have had their bit of fun. We would never discuss the rights or wrongs of conflicts.'
The Royal British Legion has thoughtfully provided the media with the details of 22 year old war widow Hester Wright, 22 and her six year old son who together had held a photo of her late husband in one of the posters. Her 23 year old husband, Private Damian Wright was killed in Afghanistan in 2007. His mum was prompted to say what she thought of her son being 'dishonoured', and loaded question aside, Debbie Smalley obligingly said, "The British Legion do a great deal for ex- servicemen and widows and they are not political. Whoever did it should be ashamed."
A local paper in Nottingham picked up the story also, leading to a flurry of outraged comments from readers picking up from where the angry article left off.
In a local rag from Kent where the story seems centered, Jenni Horn writes the campaign up as one of thoughtless vandal's defacing posters and suggests the act dishonours those who have died (and have yet to die) 'serving for our country'. Her article quotes Royal British Legion member Alan Collins who appears angered at the politicization of the poster. He says, "The Poppy Appeal isn't about arguing about which wars are just and which should never have been entered into."
Meanwhile Kent police say they are investigating and call on members of the public to phone a police hotline with any information which might implicate the 'criminal' responsible. Chief Superintendent Steve Corbishley of Medway Police said, "Whilst we support people's right to share their opinions this must be done in a legal, peaceful and respectful way."