Is there a right way or a wrong way to wear a remembrance poppy? Every year, there’s a national debate about poppies – how we wear them, why we wear them, when you should wear one, and whether they still mean the same. Here we give you the definitive answers you’re looking for. Straight answers to all your poppy-related questions.
Remembrance poppy history
Poppies grow anywhere – even in ravaged no man’s land pulverised by artillery fire – a fact that didn’t escape the notice of Canadian soldier, physician, and poet Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. Having lost his friend and comrade in the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, he penned the immortal lines “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row.”
After the war, the American peace campaigner, Moina Belle Michael took inspiration from McCrae’s poem and persuaded the American National Legion to adopt the poppy as a unifying emblem of remembrance. Her colleague, the Frenchwoman Madame Anna E. Guérin, took the poppy to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and finally to the UK, where she met with Douglas Haig.
Field Marshal Haig has a somewhat dubious reputation in relation to his comportment during the Great War. But while many today blame him for exacerbating allied losses, he was appalled by the condition of post-war veterans living on the streets of Britain, and determined to mobilise the British public to do something about it. The remembrance poppy was born.
Who makes poppies?
Two factories make poppies in the UK, one is in Edinburgh and the other is The Poppy Factory in Richmond, Surrey. Both provide vital jobs and opportunities for veterans injured in the course of their duty, or struggling to settle back into civilian life.
Opened in 1922 to supply Haig’s poppy appeal, the Richmond factory alone churns out in excess of 45 million poppies each year for the Royal British Legion’s annual poppy appeal, which runs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Poppy Scotland began life as the Earl Haig Fund Scotland, changing its name only in 2006. The factory, set up by Lady Haig, opened in 1926 to meet the demand for poppies north of the border, and continues to run a separate appeal, with its poppies varying from English ones in that they have four petals rather than two, and no leaf.
Where does poppy money go?
Each year, many thousands of volunteers sell poppies on behalf of the Royal British Legion and Poppy Scotland, with the former making just under £50 million, and the latter a little less than £3 million from poppy sales.
Across the UK, both the Royal British Legion and Poppy Scotland spend the money they make from appeals and other fundraising work on providing advice and support for veterans and their families in times of need. Both organisations also foster a vital sense of community among veterans, ensuring nobody is forgotten once their service life comes to an end.
Poppy Scotland merged with the Royal British Legion in 2011, but continues to operate as a separate charity – all the money raised from poppy sales in Scotland goes to projects supporting Scottish veterans and their families.
What does the poppy mean now?
Channel Four News anchor, Jon Snow refused to wear a poppy on air, commenting that demands for him to wear one were “poppy fascism”. In 2014, RAF veteran Harry Leslie Smith tweeted: “I am against wearing of the poppy b/c it has been co-opted by politicians to justify our present wars on terror that are eroding democracy.”
But far from being a jingoistic expression of nationalism, the poppy is an international symbol of remembrance – it doesn’t belong to any one country. The poppy’s message is simple: it’s about taking the time to acknowledge the sacrifices of our servicemen and women, and by doing so, to remember the true cost and horror of war.
When do I wear a poppy?
This year’s poppy appeal begins on the 25th October, with volunteers hitting the streets once more, so do remember to support this most poignant reminder of sacrifice by making a donation this year.
Remembrance Sunday centres on the commemorations at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, with similar ceremonies happening in towns and villages all over the country. This year, Remembrance Sunday coincides with armistice day when, as always, on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, the nation will come to a standstill to observe a two minute silence in memory of the fallen.
Where do I wear my poppy?
Some say men should wear their poppy on their left, in their suit or coat buttonhole, while women should wear it on their right lapel, where traditionally they’d wear a broach. Others say everyone should wear it on the left – close to their heart.
Still others point to the fact that the Queen wears her poppy on her left as evidence that where you pin your poppy is less important than, should you feel it appropriate, you wear one somewhere.
We’ll leave it to the Royal British Legion to settle this one:
“The best way to wear one is simply with pride.”