In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row…
The Poppy Appeal: what’s the story?
Wearing a paper or plastic remembrance poppy dates back to 1921. The appeal, organised in the UK by the Royal British Legion and in Canada by the Royal Canadian Legion, was originally – and remains – to raise funds for active and veteran armed forces. The original idea was to remember those who died and those who fought alongside them during the First World War. Poppy wreaths are often laid at war memorials.
Inspiration was taken from In Flanders Fields, a war poem first published in Punch magazine in 1915. Written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD in May of that year, the opening lines refer to the red flowers, which grew quickly over soldiers’ graves in the Belgian region of Flanders, on the so-called Western Front.
In Canada the fundraising of the pins is called the Poppy Campaign. Poppies are sold on the streets by volunteers in the weeks before Remembrance Day, November 11.
After WWI was over, realising the need to provide financial and occupational support for ex-servicemen, Moina Michael, a US university professor, pursued the idea of selling silk poppies. She was so affected by the poem “In Flanders Fields” that she felt it was a calling to take action. In 1921, her efforts resulted in the poppy being adopted as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans by the American Legion Auxiliary. She was known as the “Poppy Lady” for her humanitarian efforts.
In 1920 a French woman, Madame Guerin, learned of the custom and decided to sell handmade poppies to raise money for children in war-torn areas. She is credited with bringing the symbol to Britain and Canada.
Where does the money go?
Wearing the poppy does not only support veterans of the past, it also supports recent veterans, their families and the elderly in many communities.
The British Legion, now called the Royal British Legion, was established to care for anyone – serviceperson or otherwise – who had suffered as a result of service during the First World War. It is an official charity,
whose objectives are written in its Royal Charter. Last year’s national Poppy Appeal Fund in the UK totalled £36.6 million, which went towards its welfare activities. It also funds recovery centres to help those injured in war.
In Canada funds raised from the poppy sales, roughly $14 million last year, go towards programs and financial assistance to veterans in need of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families. Among other projects, “Grants are available for food, heating costs, clothing, prescription medication, medical appliances and equipment, essential home repairs and emergency shelter or assistance.”
Who makes them?
Established in 1922, the Poppy Factory is a factory in London where remembrance poppies are made, approximately 36 million each year. It employs 40 full-time workers, most of whom are disabled. The poppies are made throughout the year in preparation for Remembrance tide, the period of the annual Poppy Appeal.
In Scotland, Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory in Edinburgh has been producing poppies since 1926 and makes approximately five million annually.
Until 1996, poppies were made by disabled veterans in Canada. They are now made by a private contractor. The Canadian poppies consist of two pieces of plastic, red and black, with a pin to fasten them to clothing. From 1980 to 2002, the middle was changed to green, however this change caused confusion and controversy as some preferred the original design. In order to reflect the colours of poppies that grew in the fields of Flanders the centre was changed back to black.
Who else wears poppies?
Each July, on the Sunday nearest the 11, the Republic of Ireland has a National Day of Commemoration for all Irish people who died in war. However the wearing of poppies is much less common than in the UK and they are not part of the main commemorations.
In the former British Colony of Hong Kong some wear the poppy on Remembrance Sunday. Though it is not generally worn by the public, the Royal British Legion’s Hong Kong and China Branch sells poppies in a few places on the island.
In Australia, poppies are sold by the Returned & Services League of Australia, otherwise known as the RSL, which has been in existence since 1916. Remembrance Day services are held throughout the country.
South Africa has seen a recent boom in the popularity of poppies and in New Zealand, Poppy Day usually falls on the Friday before Anzac Day, which is commemorated on 25 April.
How to wear a poppy
“There is no right or wrong lapel, no right or wrong leaf position, no right or wrong time of day, no right or wrong start date. The best way wear a poppy, is to wear it with pride.” – The Royal British Legion on poppy etiquette.
The Royal Canadian Legion, which has trademarked the image, suggests that poppies be worn on the left lapel, or as near the heart as possible.
Recently on Facebook a post from a UK woman, Karen Lowton, on a veteran stopping her in the street and adjusting her poppy went viral. “A lovely military man selling poppies stopped me today and asked if he could reposition mine – while doing so he told me that women should wear their poppy on their right side; the red represents the blood of all those who gave their lives, the black represents the mourning of those who didn’t have their loved ones return home, and the green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much. The leaf should be positioned at 11 o’clock to represent the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the time that World War One formally ended. He was worried that younger generations wouldn’t understand this and his generation wouldn’t be around for much longer to teach them.”:
I'd been trying to find the man who repositioned my poppy and told me his story about it on Tuesday, to let him know how…