The origins of this emblem can be traced back to two distinct roots
The first of these is Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian Army surgeon who wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields”. In it he sees the significance of the blood red flower growing amongst the carnage of the battlefield as a lasting symbolic memorial to the fallen.
So moved by Col McCrae’s poem was an American teacher, Moina Bell Michael, that she began to wear poppies as her tribute to the fallen. With money collected from her colleagues, she began selling silk poppies to raise funds for American ex-servicemen and women. By 1920 the American Legion agreed to adopt the poppy as their national symbol of remembrance. It was also during that year that a Frenchwoman, Madame E. Guérin, visited New York, and whilst there learned of the New York City Poppy. Taking the idea back to France, Madame Guérin began to hand make poppies for distribution in the USA in order to raise funds for children made destitute by the war.
Meanwhile in England, on May 15th 1921, The British Legion was founded (gaining Royal status in 1971) by combining four ex-service organisations. It was during a visit to the UK by Madame Guérin during the same year, that she met with Earl Haig and persuaded him to adopt the poppy for The British Legion. The first official Poppy Day in this country was held on 11 November 1921, and those first poppies were made by women and children in war devastated areas of France. In 1922, with a grant of £2,000 from Earl Haig, Britain’s first Poppy Factory was established in a former shirt collar factory just off the Old Kent Road, Southwark.
It was the idea of Major George Howson MC, founder of The Disabled Society for disabled ex-servicemen and women. By making artificial poppies – which were designed in such a way that someone who had lost the use of a hand could still assemble them – for sale around the anniversary of the 1918 Armistice, the Poppy Factory could employ five disabled men. However, after a few months this small factory was providing employment and income for fifty disabled veterans.
By 1925 the demand for poppies was such that the Poppy Factory relocated to larger premises in Richmond, Surrey, where the factory remains to this day.