Why is the Scottish poppy different?

Did you know that not all Remembrance poppies look the same? 

Although the poppy is a universal symbol of remembrance, the way each country makes them is very different. 

It is not a Scottish poppy vs the rest of the UK poppy thing – they are both sold to raise money to support the Armed Forces and veterans' community, but there is a noticeable difference between what they look like and where the money raised by them goes.

A veteran makes a Scottish poppy wreath at Lady Haig's Poppy Factory (Picture Poppyscotland)
A veteran makes a Scottish poppy wreath at Lady Haig's Poppy Factory (Picture: Poppyscotland).

What are the differences? 

When the Edinburgh-based factory that makes the Scottish poppy was set up in 1926, the look of the poppy was redesigned for sale north of the border.

The two-petal poppy, still sold in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to this day, has a leaf attached, something charity Poppyscotland says is botanically incorrect.

The distinctive Scottish poppy – a four-petal poppy made from vibrant red, crimped paper – was designed by Lady Haig.

Forces News spoke with Gordon Michie, head of fundraising and learning at Poppyscotland, about "the myth" surrounding the Scottish poppy.

"The myth in the Lady Haig Poppy Factory is that the Scottish poppy is botanically correct so when you see a poppy growing wild in the field, it will have four petals," he said.

"But it doesn't matter about the myths and urban legends between the poppies, it all symbolises the sacrifice that our Armed Forces have given over the last 100 years.

"It's about the symbolism, it's about having the opportunity to wear a poppy should you choose."

Who is Lady Haig?

Lady Haig was the wife of Earl Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Army from 1915 until the end of the First World War.

Earl Haig set up the British Legion in May 1921 to support injured ex-servicemen and their families in the aftermath of the brutal and deadly WWI. The word Royal was added in 1971 to celebrate the charity's 50th anniversary.

American academic Moina Michael and French lecturer Madame Anna Guérin were inspired by the moving poem, In Flanders Fields, by Canadian doctor and soldier Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, to use the poppy as a symbol to represent all who died during the First World War to make sure their sacrifice is never forgotten. 

The poem reads: "If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow  

In Flanders fields.”

Earl Haig was keen for the poppies made in France to be sold to the people of Britain so that much-needed money could be raised to help First World War veterans. 

However, the demand for poppies outgrew the ability to supply them so very few poppies made their way to Scotland.

Lady Haig's Poppy Factory 

In 1926, Lady Haig decided to set up her own factory to supply her home country of Scotland with poppies.

The small factory at the bottom of the Royal Mile, in the grounds of Whitefoord House, was in a shed.

The operation was described by Major (Ret'd) Charlie Pelling, Lady Haig Poppy Factory manager, as being: "Three or four blokes and a pair of scissors and a bit of crepe paper and by the end of the 20s she was employing over 100 men making the Scottish poppy and making other items that could be sold to raise money to help Scottish ex-servicemen and their families who were in distress." 

The design of the Scottish poppy has not moved far away from Lady Haig's original vision of a four-petal, crimped flower with no leaf. 

Lady Haig's Poppy Factory making poppies process Picture Poppyscotland
Making the poppies by machine (Picture: Poppyscotland).

Who makes the Scottish poppy? 

Veterans, many of whom live with disabilities, are employed by Lady Haig's Poppy Factory in Edinburgh to hand-assemble more than 3,000,000 poppies and 10,000 wreaths every year for the Scottish Poppy Appeal. 

To mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, the veterans made a special 'Centenary Poppy' with "1918-2018" embossed in gold.

It was the first change to the look of the Scottish poppy in decades, albeit for one year only. 

Poppyscotland gave the Scottish poppy another new look in 2021 to mark the centenary of the Poppy Appeal.

Poppyscotland 100 years of the poppy appeal commemorative poppy Picture Poppyscotland
The Poppy Appeal commemorative poppy marked its centenary (Picture: Poppyscotland).

Who benefits from the money? 

Money raised from the Scottish Poppy Appeal, along with its other fundraising, enables the charity to deliver support to service families, veterans and those currently serving in Scotland. 

Every penny donated to the Scottish Poppy Appeal is spent in Scotland. 

Thousands of volunteers sell the Scottish poppy on high streets, in supermarkets and rail stations, among other places, and people can order a variety of different items like wreaths, ties and dog collars online via the Lady Haig's Poppy Factory website.

The Scottish Poppy Appeal raised £2.3m in 2020, but £3.4 million was spent to support the Armed Forces community in six areas: financial support, advice, employment, mobility, housing and mental health. 

Poppyscotland volunteers sell Scottish poppies (Picture: Poppyscotland)
Poppyscotland volunteers sell Scottish poppies (Picture: Poppyscotland).

What is the difference between the Scottish Poppy Appeal and the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal? 

The Scottish Poppy Appeal was originally separate from the Royal British Legion's appeal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Poppyscotland is a separate charity within the Royal British Legion group and merged with RBL in June 2011 to share resources and expand the reach of both.

The individual parts of a Scottish poppy Picture Poppyscotland
The individual parts that make up a Scottish poppy (Picture: Poppyscotland).

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