The story behind the Poppy

The well-known Poppy has been a symbol of hope and remembrance for many years. What inspired the Poppy and why do people wear them?

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The well-known Poppy has been a symbol of hope and remembrance for many years. A year into the First World War, Lt Col John McCrae - a Canadian doctor - saw the thousands of Poppies which had grown over the muddy and barren landscape where hundreds of thousands of soldiers had fought and lost their lives. This inspired the doctor and he, in turn, wrote the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” which then inspired Moina Michael who made and sold red silk poppies which were brought to England by Anna Guerin.  

In 1921, three years after WWI had ended, the Royal British Legion had ordered and sold nine million poppies on November 11th 1921 with profits going to WWI veterans for employment and housing. The following year, Major George Howsen had set up the Poppy factory which employed disabled ex-Servicemen and continues today to create millions of Poppies each year.  

Scottish Poppies were created in 1926 by Lady Earl Haig when she established the Scottish Poppy factory in Edinburgh which produced these Poppies solely for Scotland due to high demand in England causing few to reach the Scottish borders. Scottish Poppies can be differentiated from Poppies created elsewhere in the UK because these Scottish Poppies have four petals and no leaf. Again, like Howsen’s Poppy factory, Lady Haig’s factory employed disabled ex-Servicemen. 

Today, many people in the UK wear the paper Poppies as a symbol of remembrance; to remember all those who have fallen and show support to current Servicemen and women. The funds from the Poppy appeals continue to go towards helping veterans and ex-Serviceman with the addition of helping not only with employment and housing but also providing emotional support to the veterans and their families. They are sold on streets by volunteers and in shops with small fundraising cans where people can purchase a Poppy by making a small donation. The Poppies are now worn by not only the ordinary public but also public figures such as politicians and the Royal Family.  

In addition to the traditional red Poppy, there are also white Poppies created by the Peace Pledge Union. The white Poppies were created to remember all casualties of war including civilians and non-British casualties. There is also a purple Poppy which was created by Animal Aid, it commemorates all animal loss of life during combat, however, this is now mainly a blue paw symbol instead – to represent that animals are victims of war rather than heroes. 

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