You know Remembrance Day is approaching when you see people wearing red poppies on their coats.
Whether it’s presenters on TV or someone walking down the street, it is customary in Britain to don the colourful emblem in the run up to November 11.
They’re also commonly worn at memorials held on Remembrance Sunday, which takes place on or after Remembrance Day. This year, it’s on November 14.
Undoubtedly, they are an eye-catching symbol, but why are they worn to remember fallen soldiers, and for paying tribute to the British Army and Commonwealth forces?
Here’s all you need to know.
When did we start wearing poppies for Remembrance Day?
Red poppies being used as a symbol of remembrance dates back just over 100 years.
The Royal British Legion began using the symbol in 1921, following the lead of two women: Moina Michael and Anna Guérin.
American professor Moina is sometimes known as the ‘poppy lady’ – often-cited as the first to sell poppies in order to raise funds for members of the Armed Forces and their families.
She was incredibly successful, even convincing the American Legion Auxiliary to embrace the symbol.
Famously, Moina was drawn to the emblem thanks to the most iconic poem to emerge from the First World War.
In 1915, Canadian surgeon and soldier John McCrae wrote a verse entitled ‘In Flanders Fields’.
It describes the red poppies springing up in Europe’s battlefields – after many soldiers had lost their lives fighting there, many buried without proper gravestones.
Particularly poignant for McCrae were Flanders fields, a common name for the battlefields in Ypres, Belgium – and other parts spread between the Belgian regions East and West Flanders.
The poem begins: In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row / That mark our place.
Like Moina, French-born American woman Anna was doing similar work with poppies in several US states.
It was Anna who reached to the Royal British Legion in 1921, determined for them to adopt the symbol.
So, they did. During their first ever Poppy Appeal, they sold eight million fabric poppies – with the proceeds going to help former soldiers and their loved ones.
Over time, the poppies were made of paper, though now its possible to buy all sorts of poppies: enamel, silver, jewellery, or even a poppy-covered mask to show your support.
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