The women behind Poppy Day: How French teacher and US academic inspired world-famous appeal for fallen heroes that was launched on Armistice Day in 1921 and saw nine million iconic red flowers sold
- Moina Michael and Anna Guérin were inspired by Canadian John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields
- Guérin came to Britain in 1921 and organised the first Poppy Day with help of Field Marshall Douglas Haig
- In run-up to Armistice Day on November 11, nine million poppies were sold to support wounded veterans
Inspired by the poignant words of a poem about the battlefields of the First World War, it was an American academic and a French teacher who first promoted the wearing of poppies.
Both Anna Guérin and Moina Michael were deeply moved by Canadian John McCrae’s words in In Flanders Fields, the verses of which have become iconic.
Michael began selling silk poppies in the U.S. 1918 to raise funds for ex-servicemen and campaigned to get it adopted as an official symbol of Remembrance. But it was Guérin who organised Britain’s first Poppy Day, in 1921.
She arranged the poppies’ production and sent a delegation of sellers to Britain. They were helped by Field Marshall Douglas Haig – who had directed Britain’s forces in the war – and his newly formed British Legion.
In the run-up to Armistice Day on November 11, around nine million poppies were sold to in support of the estimated 1.7million soldiers who had left temporarily or permanently disabled as a result of their war service.
The Daily Mail’s report of the memorial services at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall movingly recalled the ‘vast crowds’, with ‘nearly every man, woman and child in the dense gathering’ wearing a ‘bright red splash of colour – the scarlet poppy of Remembrance Day.’
Since this first use, the poppy has been worn by millions of people across Britain and the nations of the Commonwealth each year to mark Armistice Day.
Inspired by the poignant words of a poem about the battlefields of the First World War, it was a French teacher and an American who first promoted the wearing of poppies. Both Anna Guérin and Moina Michael were deeply moved by Canadian John McCrae’s words in In Flanders Fields, the verses of which have become iconic
McCrae’s words had included the line: ‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row’.
After Michael had her idea, Guerin successfully campaigned for the adoption of the poppy in the United States and Canada and then set her sights on Great Britain.
John McCrae’s iconic poem In Flanders Fields
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.
Guerin arrived in Liverpool in August 1921 and immediately took examples of her French-made poppies to Field Marshal Douglas Haig and his newly formed British Legion where she pitched her idea for an ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’.
Her plan was for all allied nations to raise funds for veterans, their dependants and other victims of the war through the sale of commemorative poppies.
At first Haig was sceptical but after checking her credentials, had approved the adoption of poppy day before the end of September.
He ordered nine million poppies which were to be sold for the first time on 11 November.
Due to the Legion’s last-minute approval, Guerin paid for the first British remembrance poppies out of her own pocket but was later reimbursed.
The Daily Mail’s report of the Armistice Day service at the Cenotaph said: ‘Long before 11 o’clock vast crowds had gathered in Whitehall and stood in a great and orderly mass round the ranks of grey-clad Guardsmen, blue-clad men of the Royal Air Force, sailors, and marines which lined a wide, empty space about the tall grey pillar of stone on whose sides six flags swung in the icy wind.
‘Nearly every roof and window in sight of the Cenotaph was crowded with spectators and the patient throng of waiting mourners stretched far up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square.
‘Nearly every men, woman and child in the dense gathering had a bright red splash of colour – the scarlet poppy of Remembrance Day.
‘The base of the Cenotaph was nearly bare of flowers. In the hands of women who stood waiting in the great crowds or who were even then travelling to Westminster, were the hundreds of wreaths and bunches of chrysanthemums and poppies which later in the day would form a cairn of blossoms at the foot of the memorial which praises all the Empire’s dead’.
The poppies were made from scarlet cloth and were intended – as they are today – to be pinned on coats or put in buttonholes.
Despite her tireless efforts and determination, newspaper research carried out by ancestry website Find My Past has revealed that Guerin was rarely credited and despite the incredible success of her campaign, remained largely unknown in Britain.
Guérin who organised Britain’s first Poppy Day, in 1921. She arranged the poppies’ production and sent a delegation of sellers to Britain. They were helped by Field Marshall Douglas Haig – who had directed Britain’s forces in the war – and his newly formed British Legion
At first Haig was sceptical but after checking her credentials, had approved the adoption of poppy day before the end of September. Above: Haig and his wife Dorothy inspect poppies in November 1921
The Daily Mail’s report (left) of the memorial services at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall movingly recalled the ‘vast crowds’, with ‘nearly every man, woman and child in the dense gathering’ wearing a ‘bright red splash of colour – the scarlet poppy of Remembrance Day. Right: The Daily Mail’s mention of Anna Guérin and how she was inspired by John McCrae’s iconic poem
The press sometimes referred to ‘widows and children of French soldiers’ although the first poppy makers were most frequently referred to as ‘peasants’.
When November 11th arrived Guerin’s poppies proved to be a huge success.
They sold out almost immediately and raised more than £106,000 to help veterans with housing and jobs; a considerable sum at the time – roughly £5.3 million today.
Inspired by this incredible success and public demand, in 1922 Major George Arthur Howson MC arranged for British veterans of the Disabled Society to make Remembrance Poppies and founded The Poppy Factory in Richmond upon Thames.
The demand for poppies in England increased year on year and was so high that few poppies actually managed to reach Scotland.
To address this and meet growing demand, Earl Haig’s wife Dorothy established the ‘Lady Haig Poppy Factory’ in Edinburgh in 1926 to produce poppies exclusively for Scotland.
Twins Pamela and Pauline Chamberlain, then aged 20, are seen selling poppies in Leytonstone, East London, on November 8, 1952
Nurses from Moorfields Eye Hospital in Islington, north London, sell poppies to people on the street in 1934
Nation falls silent for fallen heroes: Camilla lays memorial cross at Westminster Abbey as Britons mark Armistice Day at services across country after being forced to stay at home last year because of Covid rules
Rory Tingle, Home Affairs Correspondent for MailOnline
The Duchess of Cornwall today led Britain in a two-minute silence to mark Armistice Day as the nation was finally able to gather together again following the relaxation of Covid rules.
At the strike of 11am, millions stopped what they were doing and paused to pay their respects to fallen heroes after having to spend last year at home.
On a still, crisp autumn morning outside Westminster Abbey, Camilla led commemorations at the 93rd Field of Remembrance, which has been held since November 1928.
After a bugler played the Last Post, Camilla and hundreds of veterans from past conflicts stood motionless as the chimes of Big Ben rang out. Everyone observed two minutes of silence as London traffic rolled past.
In Staffordshire, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester attended a service of remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum, featuring readings, musical performances and wreath laying.
The two-minute silence was also marked by COP26 President Alok Sharma at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow. In Edinburgh, a single gun sounded from the castle ramparts.
In London, a service took place by the Cenotaph – the traditional focus of commemoration – and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer marked the moment at a war memorial by Euston station.
And at England’s training ground in Burton on Trent, Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane stood shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the squad in front of a St George’s Cross flown at half mask.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visits the Field of Remembrance in Westminster for an Armistice Day commemoration
Camilla bows her head during the two-minute’s silence at 11am to mark Armistice Day, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month
A service is held at The Cenotaph on Whitehall in Westminster on Armistice Day, as millions across the country honour Britain’s war dead
A woman wearing a war medal dabs away tears during a service at Edinburgh’s Garden of Remembrance in Princes Street Gardens
England’s Harry Maguire, Aaron Ramsdale, Harry Kane and manager Gareth Southgate (left-right) observe a silence for Armistice Day
A broader view of the England squad falling silent during training at St George’s Park in Burton upon Trent
Cop26 President Alok Sharma (front left) and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon observe a two minute silence in the UK Pavilion at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer bows his head in respect after laying a wreath at the war memorial at Euston Station in London
The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester during the service to remember the war dead on Armistice Day at the Armed Forces Memorial, at the National Memorial Arboretum
The couple laid a wreath at the site in Alrewas, Staffordshire. The site is commemorated to those who have lost their lives on duty or as an act of terrorism since the Second World War
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall visits the Field of Remembrance in Westminster for Armistice Day this morning
Camilla is patron of the Poppy Factory, and is seen today outside Westminster Abbey for the Field of Remembrance, which has been held in the grounds of the church since November 1928
Camilla was the most senior royal at the ceremony, as similar events took place at towns and cities around the country
People pause to observe a two-minute silence at the Cenotaph, Whitehall, as part of remembrance commemorations in the capital
Commuters come to a standstill at Waterloo Station in London as people pay their respects on Armistice Day
Crowds of railway workers in high-vis jackets joined the crowds in stopping what they were doing and marking the moment
LNER staff and commuters at Newcastle’s Central Station observe a minute’s silence at 11am on Armistice Day
People stand before observing a two minute silence at the Armed Forces Memorial, at the National Memorial Arboretum, in Alrewas, Staffordshire
Police officers observe the two minute silence at the entrance to the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow
In Edinburgh, local government officials from the city will join members of the Armed Forces for a wreath laying ceremony at the Scott Monument.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and others also stood in silence at the UK pavilion at Cop26 in Glasgow this morning.
Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone led a two-minute silence in the Scottish Parliament alongside opposition leaders and Deputy First Minister John Swinney.
Prior to the silence, Ms Johnstone read a short extract from Laurence Binyon’s Ode of Remembrance before The Last Post was played by a bugler.
Standing on the steps of parliament’s garden lobby, Ms Johnstone then recited the Kohima Epitaph before the flowers of the forest folk song was played on the bagpipes.
Armistice Day was disrupted last year and many remembered the nation’s war dead from their homes as they were encouraged to stay there to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The Cenotaph on Whitehall in London is the traditional focus of Armistice Day commemorations in Britain
Veterans and members of the military carry wreaths towards the Cenotaph, which was originally intended to be temporary but was kept due to public demand
Onlookers – most wearing poppies – watch on during this morning’s Armistice Day service by the Cenotaph
Today Prince Charles was out in Brixton, south London, meeting The Prince’s Trust Young Entrepreneurs at a branch of Natwest
The Prince of Wales – who marked 11am during the visit – was met by large crowds of wellwishers during his visit
Former Prime Minister Theresa May attended the Armistice Day Service at Maidenhead Town Hall in her constituency
She was seen speaking to 97-year-old Sergeant Mohannad Hussain, who served in the British Indian Army
A Chelsea Pensioner looks at tributes as veterans and representatives from the Armed Forces gather outside Westminster Abbey
Veterans gather before a ceremony at Westminster Abbey. This year will see the 93rd Field of Remembrance commemoration
Leeds White Watch firefighters observe a minute silence with other team members outside Leeds Fire Station
Each year, the two-minute silence marks the end of the four-year conflict in 1918 where an agreement between Germany and the Allies was made ‘on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month’
People observe a two minute silence to remember the war dead on Armistice Day by the war memorial in Woking town centre, Surrey
In London, hundreds of wreaths are travelling to major stations from across the country and overseas from locations including the Falkland Islands as part of the Poppies to Paddington and Routes of Remembrance campaigns by The Veterans Charity.
One of the wreaths has already toured the UK and today will make its way up the Thames before being carried on board HMS Belfast, a surviving Second World War Navy war ship, and taken to the Tower of London.
Ahead of Armistice Day, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer paid tribute to the fallen heroes and those who continue to serve in the Armed Forces.
He said: ‘In a year which saw British forces show remarkable bravery to save lives in the evacuation of Kabul it is important we show how grateful we are for your sacrifice and for everything you have done, and continue to do, to keep us safe.
‘As every year passes we take one step further away from the wars of the last century where our armed forces, and those who kept the home fires burning, sacrificed so much.
‘Remembrance is always a humbling time of year, because I reflect, as we all do, that our country, our way of life, our values and our democracy are hard fought for, by the UK and our allies, through life-ending and life-changing sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we live by every day.
‘We will remember them.’
LNER staff and commuters at Newcastle’s Central Station observe a minute’s silence at 11am to mark Armistice Day
LNER employees laid wreaths at a memorial in Newcastle’s Central Station, which fell silent at 11am
Railways staff and commuters bow their heads at Newcastle Central Stations amid similar commemorations across the country
1st Battalion of The Duke Of Lancaster’s Regiment march through the streets of Liverpool to Our Lady & Saint Nicholas Church before observing a two minute silence to remember the war dead on Armistice Day
The parade in Liverpool (pictured) is one of a series of ceremonies taking place across the length and breadth of the country to mark Armistice Day
The Duke Of Lancaster’s Regiment is the Infantry Regiment of the North West of England and has the motto ‘Lions of England’
The title Duke of Lancaster belongs to the Queen, and does not vary depending on whether the monarch is male or female
A rear view of soldiers marching through Liverpool today, as the streets were closed to traffic to allow them to pass
Onlookers watched on as members of the 1st Battalion of The Duke Of Lancaster’s Regiment walked to Our Lady & Saint Nicholas Church in Liverpool
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