At this time of year it’s hard to miss those unmistakable red poppies adorning everyone’s lapels and buttonholes. Having become such an iconic symbol of the sacrifices made and the lives lost in past wars how did this simple little flower come to mean so much to so many?
Following the destruction and devastation in Western Europe caused by the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th Century and then again in World War One, the scarlet corn poppy grew wildly and transformed battlefields into a sea of red.
Published in 1915, the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae uses this image as a symbol of the way that the poet’s comrades fought and gave their lives in battle. Its hugely powerful sentiment inspired two women who went on to be responsible for our wearing of the poppy today.
In the USA after having read the poem, Moina Bell Michael started to sell poppies to raise funds for ex- servicemen. Later in 1921 the idea was taken up by Madam Guerin who sold countless poppies to raise money to regenerate areas of France that had been most severely destroyed during World War One.
Madame Guerin made such an impact that in 1922 she managed to persuade Earl Haig and the British Legion to adopt the poppy as a symbol for their own campaign, it wasn’t long before the job of making and assembling artificial poppies was given to the Disabled Society.
Founded by Western Front veteran Major George Howson MC, the Disabled Society was established to help disabled ex-service men and women, providing them with a rare chance to work after the war. In a small factory with just five ex-servicemen and a grant of only £2,000 Major Howson embarked on producing the first British poppies.
Its unique design, that is used still to this day, was created so that it could easily be put together by the disabled ex-servicemen and women. Within the space of a few months the number of staff had grown from five to 50.
Demand for the poppies continued to grow until the small Old Kent Road factory could no longer cope and in 1925 production was moved to a new factory in Richmond, Surrey where it remains to this day.Feature image: tastylondon.co.uk