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Poppy etiquette: What to know

Our guide to wearing a poppy for Remembrance Day

Poppy etiquette: What to know
Many Brits wear their poppies with pride during autumn. Photo: Nils Geylen

On the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" Brits pause for two minutes to commemorate those who have died in battle since World War I.

In the run-up to Remembrance Day, or Poppy Day as it is unofficially called, people wear a red poppy, that is often made of paper, in their lapel. You may have noticed veterns in their uniforms at public places selling them.  

The money you purchase the poppy for is actually a donation to the The Royal British Legion, which supports veterans and members of the British Armed Forces.

If you would like to join in with this custom you'll need to know the following.

When should I start wearing a poppy?

As mentioned in our Ask A Brit article, people start wearing them from mid-October, although the official poppy campaign doesn’t normally start until the penultimate week of October. This is when most people start wearing them, although some wait until the start of November before pinning theirs on.

How much money should I give?

When you buy a poppy, you’ll be expected to give a donation to either the charity collector or to the charity box next to the poppies. There’s no limit on what to put in but it’s always nice to give them some ‘proper’ change instead of a few copper coins, so be as generous as you can.

Where should I put it?

Most people wear the poppy on the chest on their coats/jackets, so people can see them when they’re out and about. Some believe that men should wear their poppy on the left of their chest and women on the right, but the Royal British Legion say that the only rule is to “wear it with pride”. Some cars and buses also ‘wear’ poppies, but it’s not so common.

Do I have to wear a poppy?

Nobody will force you to buy one. Only wear one if you’re comfortable with it. War is a sensitive subject for all, so don’t feel obligated to do so. If you want to put it on your coat, make sure to pick up a pin with your poppy so you can attach it securely.

What colour poppy should I wear?

Again, this is up to you. The red poppy is the traditional poppy to wear, with all proceeds going to the Royal British Legion, who support serving members and veterans of the British Armed Forces and their families.

The white poppy, produced by the Peace Pledge Union, represents peace. Started in 1933 by the Women’s Co-operative Guild, the white poppy commemorates killed civilians as well as soldiers. Some people (including former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) don’t approve of white poppies.

Purple poppies have been created by Animal Aid to commemorate service animals that have died in battle. These two poppies can be worn as an alternative to the red poppy, or to compliment it.

Does anybody get offended by poppies?

With the poppy commemorating fallen soldiers since World War I, a number of people of different nationalities may be upset by one. Britain’s recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a sensitive subject for some. Areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland may dislike it due to the centuries-old divide between Northern and the Republic of Ireland.

In recent times fromer British Prime Minister David Cameron caused a minor political issue when he refused to remove his poppy during a visit to China. If wearing the poppy abroad be sure to do your research and check that it will not be culturally offensive.

What happens on 11 November at 11am and why?

A two-minute silence is held at 11am to remember the people who have died in wars. It marks the day World War One ended, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. The first two-minute silence in Britain was held on 11 November 1919, when King George V asked the public to observe a silence at 11am.

There is also Remembrance Sunday every year, which falls on the second Sunday in November. This year it will fall on Sunday 13 November.

On this day, there are usually ceremonies at war memorials, cenotaphs and churches throughout the country, as well as abroad. The Royal Family and top politicians gather at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, for a memorial service and the nationa, again observes a two minute silence.


Front page poppy image: S. Pakhrin (Flickr)

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