Why do we wear poppies for Remembrance?

The poppy has been a symbol of both Remembrance and hope for a peaceful future since the First World War.

Wearing a red poppy continues to be a tribute to serving personnel and veterans, across the UK, Allied Forces and the Commonwealth.

Each year millions of poppies are sold by tens of thousands of volunteers.

Watch: Royal British Legion's 2022 appeal launches in London.

But what is the story behind the poppy? 

During the First World War, the previously beautiful countryside of Western Europe saw intense fighting and was repeatedly blasted and bombed, turning fields to mud where little or nothing could grow.

Out of this devastation, the delicate but resilient bright red Flanders poppies grew and flourished in their thousands.

Canadian doctor Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was so moved by the sight of these poppies shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, that he wrote the now-famous poem In Flanders Fields.

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

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields."

London Poppy Day
Each year millions of poppies are sold by tens of thousands of volunteers (Picture: MOD/Crown Copyright).

The American academic named Moina Michael was then inspired by the poem to adopt the poppy in memory of those who had fallen in the war.

She campaigned to get it used as an official symbol of Remembrance across the US and worked with others who were trying to do the same in Canada, Australia, and the UK.

Also involved with those efforts was a French woman, Anna Guérin, who was in the UK in 1921 where she planned to sell the poppies in London.

There she met Earl Haig, the founder of the RBL, who was persuaded to adopt the poppy as the charity's emblem in the UK.

The RBL, which formed in 1921, then ordered nine million artificial poppies and sold them on 11 November that year.

Watch: Why is the Scottish poppy different?

The poppies were in such high demand that they sold out almost immediately.

That first 'Poppy Appeal' raised more than £106,000 to help veterans with housing and jobs, an incredible sum for the time. 

In response, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory in 1922, to employ disabled ex-servicemen.

Today, the factory and its warehouse in Aylesford produce millions of poppies each year.

Other charities sell poppies in different colours, each with their own meaning, but all commemorate the losses of war.

White poppies symbolise peace without violence and purple poppies are worn to honour animals killed in conflict.

The poppy continues to be sold worldwide to raise money and to remember those who lost their lives in the First World War and in subsequent conflicts.

Related topics

Join Our Newsletter


First Fusiliers train to lead Nato battlegroup in Estonia

Is Ukraine's counter-offensive under way?

Is Ukraine using an aircraft-imitating missile to confuse Russian defences?