The poppy was a familiar sight on the battlegrounds of the Western Front during the First World War, where it flourished amidst the devastation of trench warfare. It was adopted as a symbol of remembrance in the wake of a poem entitled ‘In Flanders Fields’ by Canadian soldier John McCrae, which concludes with a demand that the dead be remembered by those at home: ‘If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.’
At the end of the war, as memorials to the dead sprang up in cities, towns and villages across the country, the poppy became a popular symbol of the public’s commitment to remembering those who had perished in wartime. Artificial replicas of the flower—to be worn through a buttonhole on Armistice Day—were first sold in Britain to raise money for ex-servicemen in 1921, a practice that continues to this day.
To find out more about the history of poppies as a symbol of remembrance browse our list of links to other resources: