Lest We Forget. For nearly 100 years the Poppy has been the symbol of remembrance of the First World War; but has the Poppy become a status symbol, a symbol of identity instead of remembrance?
The Poppy, 1921 – 2019
We, the British, have come to see the Poppy as ours, but that’s not strictly true. The idea to sell poppies to commemorate came from the French, specifically a woman called Anna Guérin, who created it in 1921. For a time the Poppy was sold in France, Britain the US – but this fell apart, and the British were left with the Poppy.
In 1921, 9 million poppies were sold, raising over £106,000 for the appeal. In 1922 a Poppy factory was set up in Richmond by the Royal British Legion. Since its inception the poppy has raised nearly £3 Billion. In 2014 the Tower of London used the poppy to commemorate 888,246 British fatalities, instead of the millions of those who died for the Empire, which still existed at the time. These poppies, created by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, were sold and raised “millions”. These poppies, which have been collectors’ items, are being sold on Gumtree for upwards of £300.
Personal Choice or Collective Narcissism?
The Royal British Legion describes the wearing of a Poppy as a ‘personal choice’ and as ‘not compulsory’. However, those in the public eye, from Politicians to former Love Island contestants, are publicly criticised for not wearing a Poppy, not wearing the right kind of Poppy, not wearing it at the right time, or in every, single Instagram photo.
Recently, as the centenary of the War has been and gone, wearing a Poppy has started to become a symbol of something other than remembrance. It’s hard to say, categorically, why people wear Poppies, but there is certainly an element of National Identity. The Poppy has become a symbol of British Identity, a sort of collective narcissism. When did you buy your poppy? Is it a pin or a paper one? Have you got one on your car? Do you make sure that you put it on your jumper if you take your coat off? Did you bag yourself a Poppy from the Tower of London?
Do you remember what Poppies really symbolise?
Personally, I wear a white Poppy, which can be bought online or from your Quaker Meeting House.
White Poppies are a symbol of going towards Peace, remembering those who have fallen, those who stood up for their pacifism and those who are still fighting. I have to admit, I do get some funny looks when I’m on the tube or walking around London, people might see the white Poppy as something other than the norm, and that sets people on edge. But I don’t mind – the more who see it, the more who learn about the symbol.
What happens now? How do we go forward? Has the Poppy become obsolete? Is it still a symbol of remembrance, or has it become a British symbol of identity? If it’s not helping spread remembrance, what can? This isn’t something I have answer to, but perhaps we should keep more of an open mind and remember that you don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s mind; someone with a Poppy isn’t necessarily remembering more than or less than someone without. And remember, if you want to give to the Poppy Appeal, you can do so throughout the year, not just in November.