The Poppy Appeal was launched in central London yesterday by David Cameron. The theme for this year is “To the memory of the fallen and the future of the living.”

Most people think that the Poppy Appeal is remembering solely British or Commonwealth soldiers. The fact is that it isn’t. World War I resulted in the 36th (Ulster) Division having over 32,000 soldiers declared dead, missing or wounded. The 36th (Ulster) Division was formed through the merging of the Ulster Volunteer Force (who were formed to fight against Home Rule), the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Of the nine Victoria Crosses awarded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, four of them were awarded to 36th Division soldiers.

From 1914-1918, over 200,000 Irish people served in the British Army. Of these, over 49,000 Irish people paid the “ultimate sacrifice.”

Below are two photos: the first is of a regiment in the 36th (Ulster) Division before they went to France in World War One … the second is the same regiment after the Battle of the Somme.

36th Ulster - before

36th Ulster - after

Makes you think doesn’t it??

Irish born soldiers are still serving in the British Army. They are still serving and sometimes dying beside “Ulster” and “British” soldiers.

Corporal Sean Binnie was born in 1986 in Dublin. He joined the British Army in 2003 and, following basic training, his unit was moved to Belfast in 2005. He helped dismantle Army bases as part of the close down following the end of Operation Banner. Corporal Binnie passed the arduous Section Commanders’ Battle Course last year and took command of his section in time to deploy on operations in Afghanistan in March, living and working amongst the Afghan troops.

He was killed on 7th May 2009, alongside colleagues in The Black Watch, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS).

His Commanding Officer said, “Corporal Binnie was an enthusiast by nature, with a strong, determined streak not always seen in one so young … He was part of a small team bound together by trust and self-respect, built up over their arduous training in the last year and in their first months here in Afghanistan.”

This was evident when the inquest into his death found that he was assisting a wounded colleague when the platoon came under heavy enemy fire and Corporal Binnie was fatally wounded.

His wife of six months said “Our married life has been a short six months and I’m speaking for both of us in saying it was the best six months ever … I always used to wear a poppy before but now I realise how important the poppy appeal is.”

Corporal Binnie was criticised by many, including some members of his family, for wanting to join the British Army as he was a Roman Catholic. But the fact is that Corporal Binnie, along with thousands of others, chose to serve in the British Army, although they were not born in the UK. They serve so that I and the people I love don’t have to.

Whether or not you agree with recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact is that if people did not choose to serve in the Army, the UK could follow Sweden, Norway, Spain and many other countries and conscript soldiers into the army for a period of National Service. Some soldiers are not old enough to get car insurance … but they are old enough to die.

The poppy is obviously seen as a political object in Northern Ireland and we have heard countless stories of people being asked to remove them in schools and offices across Northenn Ireland, and that is unfortunate. I completely understand that in some parts of Northern Ireland, there are still people who remember loved ones innocently killed by the British Army during The Troubles, but I stood at the Cenotaph in Belfast two years ago beside a gentleman who lived in the heart of West Belfast and who comes every year to remember his great-great grandfather. At the end of the service, he took off his poppy and gave it to me with the words “I only wish I could wear this home”

“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we should remember them.”

“To the memory of the fallen and the future of the living.”

You can buy poppies from today in many outlets or can donate online here