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Why do Brits wear poppies during autumn?

Question asked by Olafemi from Nigeria


WE don’t often get too serious in Ask A Brit, but this time of year can be sombre in the UK. You may notice that many people start to wear poppies during October and November. These are to commemorate soldiers who have died in battle since World War I.

All of this culminates on November 11, called Remembrance (or Armistice) Day. It is the day that World War I finally ended in 1918; a four-year war that killed more than nine million soldiers. At 11am on November 11, a two minutes silence is observed across the country to commemorate the dead. Even though Remembrance Day is a very British affair, the idea of wearing poppies originated in 1920s USA.

The use of the poppies was inspired by In Flanders Fieldsa poem written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in 1915. Many of the high casualty battles took place in poppy fields and their red petals came to signifying the blood spilled during the conflict. Poppies have also been adopted by veterans in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Poppies are sold in the UK by the Royal British Legion except in Scotland where they’re sold by the Earl Haig Fund. A team of former soldiers put together every poppy sold; a process that can take most of the year. All poppies are bought by donation, so you can choose the amount of money you put into the collection buckets or tins.

Some people start to wear poppies on their clothing from mid-October, although it’s usually the penultimate week of the month that collections start. Some believe that men should wear their poppy on the left of their coat/jacket and women on the right, but the Royal British Legion say that the only rule is to “wear it with pride”.

There are a variety of poppies available to wear. The white poppy represents peace, while purple poppies are worn to remember service animals that died in battle. These poppies are usually worn as an alternative to the red poppy (or to complement it) and are created by companies separate from the Royal British Legion.

Us Brits have some unwritten rules for ‘poppy etiquette’, which we have covered here.

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