In the heart of Britain's history, the poppy has stood as an enduring symbol of remembrance since the somber days of the First World War. Over the course of a century, its design has evolved, but it’s symbolism of remembrance to those who laid down their lives in the war remains unchanged.
The origin of the poppy is often attributed to Moina Michael who left Britain after the outbreak of the First World War. In 1911, she embarked on a fundraising journey back home to America, spurred by the poignant verses of John McCrae’s poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’. Moina made a personal pledge to “keep the faith” after reading the poem, vowing to always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance. It would become an emblem for “keeping the faith with all who died”. Designer Mr Lee Keedick designed the emblem in 1918 for Moina. Simultaneously, across the ocean, another advocate, Anna Guérin from France, was inspired by Moina and championed the poppy's cause in Britain. Anna successfully persuaded the Royal British Legion to adopt the Poppy as a symbol of remembrance, which would continue for generations to come.
The First Poppy
The earliest renditions of this iconic flower spanned a spectrum of materials, from delicate silk to cardboard, four different poppies were designed to fit different budgets. In 1926, Lady Haig, wife of the renowned Earl Haig who was Commander in Chief of the British Army, introduced the Scottish poppy, a vibrant four-petal creation made from crimpled paper. Even today, The Lady Haig Poppy factory produces over five million poppies each year, and only employ ex-servicemen, many of whom are disabled.
As the decades passed and changed, so did the poppy's form. In the 1930s, it embraced sophistication with dual layers of fabric, blending the grace of silk with the resilience of lawn cloth.
With the Second World War, an emphasis was placed on preserving resources, leading to innovations born of necessity. With limited materials, a simpler version of the poppy crafted entirely from card was created. Alongside the iconic red poppy, white poppies were introduced in 1933 by members of the Co-Operative Women’s guild as a sign of remembrance for all war victims and as a commitment to peace, seeking non-violent solutions to conflict. Later, in the 1950s, wire stem poppies came back and replaced the wartime cardboard with felt petals, albeit losing their leaves in the process.
1967 heralded a new era, introducing a seamless one-piece petal design with a plastic stem. Two decades later, in 1987, the poppy returned to its roots, donning a larger leaf and a more traditional appearance after the public voiced their preference for the leaf.
The Red Poppy Goes Green!
Fast forward to 2023, the poppy witnessed a transformative leap. After 3 years of design, the innovative minds at Bath-based studio Matter announced the new poppy, which blends 50% recycled fibers from coffee cup production and 50% renewable wood fibers. The Royal British Legion supports this eco-friendly shift, predicting a significant 40% reduction in emissions. Even the Scottish poppy, with its distinctive four petals, joins this green revolution, becoming both plastic-free and recyclable. A whopping 170,000 poppies are produced every day to keep up with demand ahead of Remembrance Day, and each year over 45 million are sold.
Yet, amidst these changes, the profound symbolism of the poppy remains unaltered. It stands as a tribute, immortalising the sacrifices of those who laid down their lives during times of war. In it, we find a timeless reminder of bravery, unity, and hope.
Photo Credit: Royal British Legion, 'Poppies Through The Ages'