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Nov 2018

Tue 13 th Nov 2018
Alex Houghton – A History of Red Poppies & White Poppies

Alex explained poppy days were held in Britain as a way a raising money for charity before world war one. However, the fact that the poppy, the red one, became the symbol of remembrance after the war was attributed to several people.

During the war Anna Guerin, the ‘French Poppy Lady’, toured the USA highlighting the plight and raising money for French children affected by it. Alex said that the Royal British Legion (RBL), following the end of the war was urged, citing Anna Guerin, in adopting the red poppy. Its first poppy day was held in 1921.

Other factors also led to the red poppy, first, being popularised and, later, being associated with remembrance.

A Clement Scott, journalist and poet, wrote ‘The Garden of Sleep’, A poem that popularised an area of north Norfolk by calling it ‘Poppyland’, in the late 19th century.

Although Scott died in 1904, a world war one poet notably, Canadian, John McCrae, wrote ‘In Flanders Field’. It was influenced by Scott’s poem. McCrae’s poem inspired American writer, Moina Belle Michael, to write her autobiography, ‘The Miracle Flower, The Story of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy’.

The white poppy was introduced in 1933 by the Women’s Co-operative Guild. They were a politically active, working class group who wanted to counter militarism by working for peace. A London vicar, Rev Richard Shepherd, went further by forming the Peace Pledge Union in 1936.

There were calls in the press to ban the white poppy. It seems, though, that the outbreak of world war two reduced its popularity.

In modern times there is still some strong opinions regarding the wearing of white poppies. Some people wear both, in an attempt, to accommodate both views.

It was an interesting talk at an appropriate time.

Gill Croft, at very short notice, recited four poems, including the 2 named above, on behalf of Alex. She brought the poignant words to life for an appreciative audience.

Peter Robinson