In the early 19th century during the Napoleonic Wars, a great deal of Europe was devastated and laid bare, and it is recorded that fields of poppies were seen to grow around the bodies of the dead.
During the First World War, the same fields in France and Belgium were also turned into muddy wasteland and once the War had finished the poppy was one of the few plants to speedily return to the battle fields. A Canadian surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae immortalised the place of the poppy in his poem ‘In Flanders Fields.’ This was initially published in 1915 in the London based magazine Punch, but it was not until 1919 that the poem was included in a published collection of his works and it became synonymous with the sacrifice of the soldiers who died in the First World War.
In 1918 an American professor decided to wear a red, silk poppy in memory of the soldiers who died in the War, and it was she who campaigned to have the poppy accepted as the official symbol of remembrance by the American Legion. A French woman was inspired to sell poppies in France and in 1921 she sent poppy sellers to London to raise funds for the war orphans. Field Marshal Douglas Haig, himself one of the British Military Leaders in the First World War helped found the Royal British Legion and he encouraged the sale and wearing of the red poppy.
The wearing of the poppy and the laying of poppy wreaths at Remembrance Services has been adopted as an international symbol of remembrance, although ironically in France, the poppy has been abandoned for Le Bleuet, the Cornflower and this is sold by the French National Board of Veterans and War Victims. The Royal British Legion produces all of the poppies in the UK or licenses specialist marketing firms to produce high priced collectibles.
All funds are used by the Legion towards a wide range of services and support for veterans, serving personnel and their families.