Why Do British People Wear Poppies?

remembrance sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday in England and we’ve all got our poppies. But do you know what we buy them for and where this tradition originated from?

Remembrance Sunday is held ”to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts”.  We hold this day on the second Sunday in November which is always close to something called Armistice Day – the anniversary of the end of the WW1 at 11am in 1918 – 99 years ago.

In local areas usually at the war memorials members of the local forces (from Navy to cadets to youth organisations) gather to pay their respects. Wreathes of poppies are laid on the memorials and a two minutes silence is held at 11am. This two minutes silence is usually respected throughout the country – I’ve been at an event show where thousands of people stopped shopping, I’ve been on trains where the carriage goes silent and pretty much all activity goes still for 2 minutes – rather sombre but rather beautiful.

So why is the humble poppy the sign of remembering those who lost their life 99 years ago? Poppies were a common sight – especially on the Western Front. Canadian doctor John McCrae wrote the famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ which featured the sight of poppies on the battlefront whilst serving in Ypres in 1915. After it was published, American humanitarian Moina Michael campaigned to make the poppy a symbol of remembrance.

Since then in 1921, we have been buying and wearing poppies in England.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


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