“We’ve chewed the dirt and dodged the rockets, are you going to tell me to wear a poppy? I’m a veteran, I’ll decide”


By Georgina Ryall


WE MUST wear a poppy in November. Whether it’s a footballer walking onto a pitch, or a journalist reading the headlines, it is asked that no one be exempt from sporting this symbol.

It is the time of year when people put politics aside to commemorate the immeasurable human cost of continuous wars since 1914. However this year, a group of veterans have chosen to recognise the victims of war in an alternative way.

Veterans for Peace gather at Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday 2014

Veterans for Peace (VFP) are a UK based group of former military men and women who campaign for the abolition of, ‘war as an instrument of national policy’.

The organisation demand ‘justice for all those affected by war’. Which would extend to include the high number of military who take their own lives, the countless civilians now dead, injured or displaced as well as the victims of extraordinary rendition who have been subject to torture in prisons from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay.

With the national remembrance commemorations leaving an increasing taste of hypocrisy in some of these veterans’ mouths, many choose to wear a white poppy if they choose to wear one at all.

This year VFP held their own Remembrance Sunday commemoration at The Cenotaph, the place where a few hours prior, leading politicians and members of the royal family led the national two minutes silence.

VFP at the Cenotaph

This is only the second time they have held this event and it saw veterans from wars ranging from Malaya to Iraq.

With their supporters in tow they walked sombrely through Whitehall to lay a wreath of white flowers under a banner with the plea, ‘Never Again’.

Members of the veterans group also wore jumpers with the revered WWI veteran, Harry Patch’s famous quote on the back: ‘War is organised murder, and nothing else’.

Despite the anti-war message however, the influence of military procedure remains steady in the members. None more so than in its founder, the whistleblowing former SAS soldier, Ben Griffin, known for taking the stage at the Oxford Union to tell why he will no longer ‘fight for Queen and country’.

The day before the Sunday commemorations, Mr Griffin carried out a meeting with soldierly vigour to go over VFP’s plans for the upcoming remembrance event. Each aspect of their commemoration is strategic, from the procession’s formation as they march through Whitehall to an even spread of the best singing voices for when they break into Pete Seeger’s, ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’.

Mr Griffin is adamant that Remembrance Sunday is a day of reflection, not protest. As such, any members sporting placards or megaphones will be swiftly stamped on by their support stewards.

He added, “And one wrong photo or one wrong word to the press and someone will be getting a phone call.”

He smiles. The room laughs. But no one wants that phone call.

What sets the group apart from similar pacifist organisations such as the Peace Pledge Union or the Quakers is that they all criticise the government’s war policies from a position of having seen the horrors first-hand.

Joe Glenton, 32, was imprisoned for nine months after exercising his right to conscientiously object to returning to fight in Afghanistan. He is now an author, activist and key member of VFP.

joe glenton

He said, “This is the powerful thing about veterans for peace; we are veterans. We’ve chewed the dirt and dodged the rockets, are you going to bloody tell me to wear a poppy? I’m a veteran, I’ll decide.”

Speaking about his time in Afghanistan he said, “Due to my developing political views and to some extent my PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) I refused to go back. I went through the chain of command but that wasn’t recognised, so I added to the other 23,000 guys who’ve gone AWOL (absent without leave) since Iraq.

“This led to being court martialled and eventually all the main charges were dropped but they still stung me with a nine-month prison sentence of which I served five months.”

Mr Glenton is a critic of the ‘glorification’ of the national remembrance commemorations. However he admits it is a heated topic even amongst his fellow members.

He said, “We have guys who are WWII veterans and veterans of the wars of colonisation who wear the red poppy and are very proud but these are people whose dads were in the First World War when the poppy had a kind of angry, insurgent feel, a symbol of anger that so many people had died.”

He added, “But for the war on terror generation it’s quite different. They feel that the red poppy has been hijacked and been taken very far away from its origins.

“My own personal view? I don’t think big business should be involved in the poppy appeal at all, particularly not arms companies who make money out of wars.”

Mr Glenton is referring to some of the poppy appeal’s sponsors such as aerospace company Lockheed Martin UK, who between developing war heads and ballistic missiles also sponsored this year’s ‘Poppyrocks Ball’ hosted by the Royal British Legion.

Criticisms of the poppy appeal range from over sentimentality at best to propaganda at worst but these claims are dampened somewhat when discovering just how much money the Royal British Legion needs to raise for the after care of former military and their families.

The RBL claim they need to make £40m from this year’s poppy appeal to carry out their much needed welfare work. While their forecast report for 2005- 2020 shows the troublingly ‘deep pocket of need among veterans and their families’. Continue reading →


Fashion Designer speaks about ‘Buying British’ at Harvey Nichols Fashion Show


Time to buy British says fashion expert as knickers expand in Manchester and designers seek out specialist manufacturers. Guest blogger Georgina Ryall reports


Amanda Wakeley and a model at the launch. Photograph: Georgina Ryall/guardian.co.uk

Designer Amanda Wakeley, who has dressed the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Dita von Teese and the Duchess of Cambridge said she wants to buy British products to use in her collections and does so wherever she can.

Speaking at the launch of her Spring/Summer collection at Harvey Nichols in Leeds she said: “I’ve found a British tannery to do our bridle leather because we do things like that really well.”

“We do all of our beautiful bridle leather belts here, we do our sheepskins here wherever we can and we do some of our wedding dresses in the UK.”

But, Wakeley says it isn’t always easy. “Sadly, we’ve really, really diminished our manufacturing industry in this country, I find it hugely disappointing.

“I’d much rather support British and I’d love to see a resurgence of British manufacturing but it will take time for people to learn those skills.”

Wakeley’s comments follow similar recent statements from leading figures in the retail industry.

Sir Philip Green, retail entrepreuner in charge of the Arcadia group, whose brands include Topshop and Miss Selfridge plans to establish his own manufacturing academy to provide youngsters with a more vocational route into the fashion industry.

And the ‘Queen of Shops’ herself, Mary Portas has had to take on extra staff to cope with demand following the launch of her British underwear production line, ‘Kinky Knickers’ earlier this year. The underwear line was a product of her TV series, ‘Bottom Line’ which funded the reopening of a textile factory near Manchester where she restarted the production of high quality underwear and took on staff and apprentices.

* Get all the latest news and interviews on the Buy British campaign at www.makeitbritish.co.uk.

See the story on The Guardian website here


Full interview feature in this month’s print issue of URBAN COCO fashion magazine

Boy George gets into trouble at a small Yorkshire nightspot


ImageA MOTHER accused of being involved in an altercation with 1980s pop icon Boy George says she has been left shaken by the incident.

Mum-of-three Danielle Forster, 23, from Thirsk, North Yorkshire, said she had gone to Club Amadeus, in Northallerton with her boyfriend, Matthew Jewitt, 19, and some friends last Saturday. The former Culture Club frontman was DJ-ing at the venue.

Miss Forster, who works in a travel agents, said at about 2.30am she was waiting outside for her friend to collect her coat when she spotted the singer leaving the club and recognised him immediately.


She said: “I saw two bouncers escorting Boy George so, as he walked past, I went to grab his attention, as it’s not every day you see someone famous in this town.”

She described how a scuffle then broke out as the singer lost his hat and something struck her head, leaving her feeling “lightheaded and dizzy” with a “really bad headache”.

After an x-ray at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, it was diagnosed as concussion. Miss Forster says the whole incident left her feeling panicky and shocked.

She says she has also been affected by media attention that she has since received, as she was initially accused of assaulting the 50-year-old singer.


Boy George, real name George O’Dowd, uploaded a photo of himself with a black eye on Twitter after his trip to Northallerton, commenting: “Looking pretty after getting assaulted on Saturday night!

“Someone pulled off my hat and in the struggle to get it back I got poked.”

A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police confirmed they received a complaint from a 23-year-old local woman following an incident outside the club.

No one has been arrested in connection with the incident.

Culture Club were one of the most successful groups of the 1980s, with chart-topping singles including Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? and Karma Chameleon, which was the biggest selling UK single of 1983.


By Georgina Ryall KENT ON SUNDAY


A TOP retired academic says he is “worried” about the controversial proposed changes to personal care services for disabled people in Medway.

Speaking ahead of a second public meeting in Chatham next week as part of a public consultation into the changes proposed by Medway Council, Rochester’s Professor Mike Oliver says he fears the reasoning for the changes is motivated by cost-cutting.

The council is set to introduce personal budgets, under Government guidance, instead of the current direct payment scheme to provide disbled people with more choice on how to speand their money. It says the move would empower users and give them more flexibility.

“It depends how the budget is calculated and who decides what goes into it,” said the retired emeritus professor in disability studies at the University of Greenwich- a tetraplegic wheelchair-user who currently has care services under the existing system.

He added: “I’m worried. I suspect that the change to personal budgetsbis an agenda dominated by the need to cut costs.”

Among the topics to be discussed at the meeting on Wednesday at the Innovation Centre in Maidstone Road will be concerns about the introduction of personal budgets and the private employment of carers by the recipient, which will require the disabled person to implement correct employment procedures according to employment law.

Paul Coles at Age UK, which broadly welcomes the proposed changes, adds: “We would advise people who approached or just decide to take out a personal budget to have an advocate supporting them through the process.

“We would also like to ensure that people are fully aware of the appeals process and that if they’re unhappy about the amount of personal budget allocated that they can appeal it.”

There have also been concerns about the misappropriation of funds by the user.

Prof Oliver however does not believe it is a major concern.

He said: “I think it’s similar to the direct payment system. People are always accused of abusing the system but apart from the odd story in the papers very few people will.

“As I understand it there are two safeguards built into the system with regard to how you spend your money- your agreed social needs and the outcome you want.

“If socialisation is part of your agreed outcome then yes, you can go out and spend it on a pint of beer. However, you cannot spend it on anything illegal as will be outlined in the regulations.”

Regarding fears that clients themselves may be more susceptible to abuse he goes on to say that if clients are perceived to be vulnerable then the local authorities should deal with it appropriately.

The expert added: “It’s not a reason not to provide people with personal budgets, it’s a reason to make sure you’re doing your job properly.”

Personal budgets were introduced in March 2011 across England as part of a pilot project.

However a survey by website, Livability.org found that 90% of people questioned had never heard of the scheme. The Government aims to have the new care funding fully introduced by 2013.

Prof Oliver has been aware of the changes from the beginning due to his extensive background in disability rights and awareness and he makes sure he keeps abreast of it.

He said, “At the end of the day we all have a responsibility to know what’s going on in the world and take care of our own needs.”

Cllr David Brake, portfolio holder for adult services at Medway Council urges those likely to be affected by the changes to get involved in the consultation process, which finally concludes on February 9.

He said, “ I would urge everyone to get involved in the process, the the results of which will be carefully considered when the council makes it’s decision later this year.”