By John Ensor •
Updated: 26 Oct 2023 • 14:56
New plastic-free poppy.
INSPIRED by the famous war poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ the Poppy Appeal was set up in 1922. Its vision was to provide employment for First World War veterans, we examine how has it evolved and why is it more important than ever today.
According to the Poppy Factory, in 1922, charity founder Major George Howson received ‘£2,000 from the British Legion to open a poppy-making factory, he wrote to his parents: “If the experiment is successful it will be the start of an industry to employ 150 men. I do not think it can be a great success, but it is worth trying.”’
As early as 1931, the factory was producing 20 million poppies a year. Little did Howson envisage that over a hundred years later, the Poppy Charity would still be going strong.
Did you know that ‘the idea of using poppies. . . as a way to raise funds to support those who had suffered disability or hardship, began with two different women?’
In the US, Moina Belle Michael urged the American Legion to use the symbol of the poppy to raise funds for war veterans. However, it was thanks to the efforts of a French woman, Anna Guerin that the idea really took off.
The Poppy Factory comments: ‘She had the brilliant idea to mass-produce artificial poppies from silk and to employ war widows living in war-torn France to make them. Guerin went on to sell poppies in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain.’
In 1921 The British Legion ordered 9 million poppies from Guerin, they quickly sold out and raised £106,000, an astonishing £3 million in today’s money.
By 1922 a factory was set up in Britain that employed disabled UK war veterans. A visit by the future King Edward VIII in 1924 saw him order a large poppy wreath to lay at the Cenotaph on November 11, a tradition that continues to this day.
Throughout the years the material used to make the poppies themselves has changed. The first remembrance poppies were hand-crafted from silk. They were delicate, much like the lives they commemorated.
Some years later they were made from paper, with a plastic stem, making them more accessible to the masses they were also lighter, easier to attach, but still carried the same emblematic significance.
This year has brought in a new change, for the first time poppies are available made entirely from paper and entirely plastic-free. They still retain their distinctive look with a black centre embossed with ‘Poppy Appeal’ but no longer come with a plastic stem or centre, there is even a stick-on version available.
The charity continues to support UK veterans to this day. According to the official website: ‘Veterans are at the heart of our service. We empower them to plan their own future, supporting them into employment that reflects their aspirations, skills and circumstances.
‘Many veterans come to us years after leaving the Armed Forces. They may be struggling to adapt to the civilian world and experience complex barriers to work. Nearly four in five of the veterans we support report a mental health condition and almost half have multiple health conditions.’
They add: ‘We help these veterans to secure work and thrive in the civilian workplace, significantly improving their financial security, confidence, health and wellbeing.’
Perhaps the final words should go to Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae whose poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ inspired it all: ‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row. . .’
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
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