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The history of the iconic poppy badge

The history of the iconic poppy badge

The fields of Flanders saw devastating conflict during the First World War, with a million soldiers from over 50 different countries being wounded or killed. Yet from this tragedy arose a simple and enduring icon to help those affected by the fighting.

It was Canadian surgeon, John McCrae, who created the war poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ in 1915 after noticing a marvel in nature. Thousands of scarlet poppies bloomed in the war-torn area.

Poppies are one thing that blossoms naturally even when the earth is ruined. A beautiful red flower flourishing amongst such a tragic event didn’t go unnoticed. This also happened during the 19th century in the Napoleonic wars. Scarlet poppies appeared in barren land amid the graves of those who had been killed.


The Poppy Lady

Many believe that the popularity of the poppy originated in the UK. However, it was American war secretary Moina Michael, now known as the Poppy Lady. In 1918, two days before the Armistice was announced, Moina came across the poem in Ladies’ Home Journal. The war secretary was moved by the significance of the poppy and decided to use it as a powerful tribute to the fallen. Moina used money she earned at a conference in New York in 1918 to buy and sell 25 silk poppies to her colleagues to pin to their coat breasts.

Moina said: “…I pledged to keep the faith and always wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and the emblem of ‘keeping faith with all who died’. In hectic times as were those times, great emotional impacts may be obliterated by succeeding greater ones”.

Moina campaigned for the poppy to become a national remembrance symbol which was adopted two years later by the National American Legion.


Poppy Day

Following high numbers of poppy sales in the States, poppy sellers travelled to London to spread the emblem. On the third anniversary of Armistice Day, marked 11th November 1921 as the first UK Poppy Day — nine million poppies were sold out, raising £106,000. In 1922, disabled veterans were hired in Bermondsey, London, to make silk poppies all year round for sales in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday. And so, the tradition began.

Today, 50 veterans are hired to make a variety of poppies in different materials, such as paper and metal pin badge poppies. The Royal British Legion aims to reach a profit of £25 million each year. The proceedings are put towards providing help for those affected by war. In 2018, £50 million was raised to support veterans of the Armed Forces.

There are other coloured poppies too set up by other groups with different meanings.


The White Poppy

In 1933, the Women’s Co-operative Guild created the white poppy to represent the loss of all life during the war, not just soldiers who fought for Britain. It started as a campaign for peace and to oppose arms trade. The Royal British Legion was against its concept and believed it was controversial.

Although this version of the poppy was not intended to cause offence, many veterans believed that this undermined its significance and what they experienced. The white poppy was so controversial that many women became unemployed for wearing it. Today, it is produced by the Peace Pledge Union. In 2018, 122,385 white poppies had been sold — the highest number to date. Proceeds go towards supporting victims of war.


The Purple Poppy

Introduced in 2006 by Animal Aid, the oldest and largest animal rights group in the UK, the purple poppy commemorates the eight million animals who served and lost their lives during the war. This poppy is intended to be worn alongside the other colours.

The badge was redesigned in 2015 to be a purple paw to instead show the animals as victims rather than heroes.

The Black Poppy

In 2010, Selena Carty, a cultural and ancestral consultant, created the black poppy as a symbol to remember the lost lives of Black, African and Caribbean soldiers. Over 350,000 Black, African and Caribbean soldiers fought for the UK in the First World War.


The Khadi Poppy

A joint effort between Lord Jitesh Gadhia and The Royal British Legion in 2018, the khadi poppy recognises the contribution of over 1.5 million people from India. The poppy is made from khadi, a cotton cloth, the same material as Gandhi’s iconic clothes. Around 40,000 are produced each year.


The Digital Poppy

Interestingly, the poppy has evolved with the times. In 2018, the Royal Canadian Legion introduced the digital poppy to help provide another way to donate. People who donate will be sent an image of a poppy online with a veteran’s name on. As a result, an additional 18,000 donations were made online last year.

There’s no doubt that the poppy has become a successful campaign to raise money for charity. Throughout the years, additional options such as poppies alongside football crests have become increasingly popular. This style of pin badge has risen in prominence thanks to its sturdiness compared to the paper poppy.


Lucy Desai is a Copywriter at Badgemaster. 25 years in the making, and Badgemaster is now proud to hold the title as the UK’s leading and largest British badge manufacturer. Established in 1992, Badgemaster has evolved considerably from its humble beginnings, organically growing to a stand today as an industry leader, a dedicated multi-million pound badge making business.

In 2006, Badgemaster secured nationwide recognition from the British Monarchy for their work securing the Royal Warrant for supplying badges to the Royal Household. The Royal Warrant Holders Association was established in 1840 and represents individuals and companies holding Royal Warrants of Appointment. These are a mark of recognition of those who have supplied goods or services for at least five years to the Households of HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Prince of Wales.


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