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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of Remembering WW1 Victoria Cross Heroes UK in Austria

8th November 2017 Vienna, Austria

Why I wear a poppy

Several Austrian friends have asked me recently why I am wearing a small, red flower – a poppy – on my jacket lapel.

It’s because the United Kingdom together with other Commonwealth nations will commemorate Remembrance Day on November 11th, the day in 1918 which marked the end of hostilities in the First World War.  During the war, battles in France and Belgium churned up the earth so much that long-dormant poppy seeds in the ground bloomed as never before.  This spectacle inspired the Canadian soldier John McCrae to pen his famous poem ‘In Flanders Field’ in which the poppy, with its blood red colour, symbolises our war dead. Its opening lines are powerful:

‘In Flanders Field, the poppies grow,
Between the crosses, row on row.’

After the First World War the poppy became the symbol of Remembrance and the practice of wearing the poppy as an act of commemoration dates from 1921.

So the first reason I wear a poppy is to remember with gratitude the sacrifice of those who have died in war so that we may live in peace. Individuals such as Private Eric Deacon of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry who died on 8th December 1944 and Captain R H Povey of the South African Air Force who died on 7th July 1944 and who are both buried in Klagenfurt, Austria, where I will lay a wreath on 11th November.  

As British Ambassador to Austria, I am grateful to the Austrian communities of Adnet near Salzburg and Strallegg in Steiermark for their strenuous efforts to commemorate specific Allied air crews.  I also remember the fallen of all Armed Forces, especially those who have no known grave.

Commonwealth and British individual graves and memorials are today marked and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This remarkable organization looks after the last resting place of over 900,000 servicemen and women who lie in marked graves and over 700,000 monumental inscriptions to the missing.

As Albert Schweitzer noted “the soldiers’ graves are the greatest preachers of peace”.

I also wear a poppy to support the Poppy Appeal which raises funds for the Royal British Legion. This charity provides support to the millions who have served and are serving in our Armed Forces, and also to their families. The theme of this year’s Appeal is ’Rethink Remembrance’ to recognise the sacrifices made not just by the Armed Forces of the past, but by today’s generation too.

You can find out more about this appeal and how to donate at Ways to Give or buy a poppy at the British Embassy Vienna, Christ Church Vienna, the Vienna International Centre and two hostelries Flanagans and O’Connors.

So this November I again wear my poppy with pride and gratitude.

P.S. My mum points out that her mother had three cousins who went to fight in the First World War.  All three were killed: Alfred and Robert Leigh Redfern (brothers) and Henry Clifford Leigh.

This is an updated version of a blog published in November 2016.

4 comments on “Why I wear a poppy

  1. Hi Leigh, I hope you get this so long after writing the blog! I am an artist in Bramhall, Stockport and am working on a project commemorating the end of the First World War to be exhibited at Stockport’s Memorial Art Gallery. The theme of the exhibition is “Hopes, Dreams and Aspirations” and 100s of members of the public will be making dream boxes. Alongside them 10 artists have been charged with making boxes to represent 10 soldiers focusing on them as people and what might have their hopes, dream and aspirations as opposed to them as soldiers. I would like to represent Robert Leigh Redfern and saw that you are a descendant. I wondered if your mother or grandmother ever spoke about him and his life. Any insights would be invaluable in creating my box. Many thanks, Jane

    1. Dear Jane – good to hear and I would be happy to help. I shall write to my mother to see what she knows about Robert Leigh Redfern, with whom I share two-thirds of my name. Perhaps you could send me an e-mail to leigh.turner@fco.gov.uk and we can take it from there.


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About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.