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Why do we Wear Red and White Poppies?

Posted on October 21 2016

Why do we Wear Red and White Poppies?


On the 11th month of every year, jacket lapels throughout many countries across the globe, are adorned with red and white poppies. These two familiar emblems, though related in meaning, symbolize different things.



The red remembrance has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day. Also known as Poppy Day, Remembrance Day dates back to 1917 when King George of Britain dedicated 11 November as a day of remembrance for members of the armed forces killed during World War I.

Although World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June 1919, because the armistice of WWI became effective at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it is on this date, the 11th of November, that the annual Remembrance Day is observed to remember the members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty during and since World War I, as well as those who still serve today.

In the United Kingdom, Remembrance Day is observed on the Sunday nearest to 11th November and is also known as Remembrance Sunday whilst in the United States, 11th November annually marks Veterans Day. In other countries, those who have served in the war are remembered on other days, such as Anzac Day, on the 25th, in New Zealand.

During Remembrance Day, the artificial red poppies worn on the lapel jackets of men and women, represent a field poppy, inspired by the World War I poem "In Flanders Fields", whose opening lines refer to the many poppies that bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders, a region of Europe that overlies a part of Belgium, in World War I. Once the conflict was over the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the otherwise barren battlefields. The poem is composed from the point of view of the dead soldiers and was written by, Canadian physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, on 3rd May 1915 after witnessing the death of his friend, a fellow soldier, the day before. 

Inspired by the 'In Flanders fields' poem, Moina Michael (1869–1944), a professor at the University of Georgia, wrote the poem, "We Shall Remember," and set herself a mission: to have the red poppy adopted in the United States as a national symbol of remembrance. The American Legion adopted it at its annual convention in September 1920. Attending that event was Madame E. Guérin who saw the potential to make and sell poppies, putting the proceeds towards the welfare of veterans, their families, and poor children. Along with Michael, Guerin was responsible for making the poppy an international symbol of remembrance. Poppies were worn for the first time at the 1921 anniversary ceremony. At first, these were real poppies and later artificial ones. The Royal British Legion adopted the red poppy as a symbol for their Poppy Appeal in 1921, in aid of those serving in the British Armed Forces and continues the Poppy Appeal annually.



In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.



The White Poppy was first introduced by the Women's Co-operative Guild in 1933 and was intended as a lasting symbol of peace and an end to all wars. While the White Poppy was never intended to offend the memory of those who died in the Great War, many veterans felt that its significance undermined their contribution and the lasting meaning of the red poppy. Such was the seriousness of this issue that some women lost their jobs in the 1930s for wearing white poppies.

In 1936 the white poppy was adopted by the Peace Pledge Union in Britain, which now coordinates the initiative. The white poppy continues to be worn today and is a pacifist alternative to the red poppy emblem, while some choose to wear both a white and a red poppy on Remembrance Day.