History of the poppy for Remembrance

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© Gonzalo Sanchez Shutterstock
Poppies at the Tower of London.

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 World War I, 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.

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In 1918 an American Professor decided to wear a silk red 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 World War I 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 prices collectibles in return for a percentage of the profits. In all cases, the funds are used by the Legion to go towards a wide range of services and support for veterans, serving personnel and their families.

A two minute silence is held in the UK at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in memory of those who have died in service of their Country.

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