The History of the Poppy

After the devastation of the First World War, people were seeking a way to come to terms with the devasting loss.  A generation of young men was no longer in the bosom of their families but buried in foreign graveyards.  People had no way to mourn, to remember until YMCA worker, Moina Belle Michael came up with the idea using the red poppy as a way of showing support and remembrance.


In her memoir, she states that she searched all the shops for the simple red-petaled flower and upon finding some she held a conversation with the shop assistant regarding them, this sales assistant having lost her brother in war also.



Inspiration came from the John McCrae poem ‘In Flander’s Fields’, Canadian officer McCrae, had noticed that the scarred battlefield produced the vibrant flowers when the fighting had ceased It was believed that he used this imagery in his poem after also seeing the bloom growing on his friend’s grave.

The vibrancy of the flower with its silky petals seems such a contradiction to the destruction of the battlefields, the scars of which still pockmark the land today.


Having sold her silk poppies for a number of years around New York, Moina Belle Michael continued to campaign for the flower to be a symbol of remembrance.  Finally, at a conference of the National American Legion in 1920, the poppy became the adopted icon. Also, present at the conference was a French nurse, Madame Anna E Guérin, a founder of the ‘American and French Children’s League, who became responsible for the symbolic poppy to travel over the Atlantic and into France.

Anna Guerin organized French women, children, and war veterans to make artificial poppies out of cloth which was then sold. The proceeds when to restoration efforts. In 1921 she traveled to allied nations or sent others with the intention of passing on the message of making, selling, and wearing the poppy.


In November 1921 the poppy was first sold in the UK where proceeds when to help the ex-servicemen.  From there it was adopted by the Royal British Legion who used ex-service personnel to manufacture and sell them.

Poppies are now sold worldwide, with the proceeds going to help the ex-services.



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