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Home  > News  > Find Out Why People Wear Poppies In November...

Find Out Why People Wear Poppies In November...

November 09 2004

You might have noticed that in November each year many people wear bright red paper poppies. What are the poppies for? And why November? Read on to find out…

Shows a photo of a hand holding a single red poppy against a blue background.

Why are these poppies so special?

Courtesy of The Royal British Legion.

The First World War finally ended after four long and bloody years of fighting, on November 11 1918. The guns stopped on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Millions of people were killed in the war and millions more were injured. In the years since 1918, even more people have died in wars around the world including, of course, World War Two.

November 11 was chosen back in 1919 as the special day each year when we would all think about and remember those who had died. To this day, almost 100 years later, at 11am on November 11 many people across Britain stay silent for two minutes to think about those who died.

This picture shows the two minute silence taking place high up on the London Eye.

Courtesy of The Royal British Legion.

Shows a photo of a man and a woman standing in one of the London Eye pods, high in the sky, either side of a giant red poppy.

At first, November 11 was known as Armistice Day because 'armistice' is the word used for an agreement between enemies to stop fighting. These days it is more usually called Remembrance Day or Poppy Day.

So, we know why November 11 is special, but why poppies? The story begins back in 1915, during World War One…

Shows a photo of poppies growing in the wild, surounded by greenery.

These poppies are growing wild at Gallipoli, scene of an awful battle in 1915.

Courtesy of The Royal British Legion.

A doctor called John McCrea, who was working to help soldiers in France, wrote a poem in 1915 about the poppies growing on the graves of dead soldiers. The beginning of the poem goes -

'In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row...'

You can read the whole poem on this page.

Find out more about John McCrae on these web pages from the Canadian government. It is a site written for adults, but is clear and easy to find you way around. Many thanks to Show Me reader Kevin Wright for that link.

An American poet called Moina Michael read the beautiful poem. It gave her the idea of using poppies to remember the dead but also to help the living at the same time.

Moina bought real poppies and gave them out to friends. She also sold some poppies and gave the money to surviving, needy ex-soldiers. The first official Poppy Day, organised by a charity called The Royal British Legion, was held in 1921.

During World War Two British children were given gas masks like this. This photo is from the 'All Clear on the Home Front' show (see below).

© Kirklees Community History Service.

Shows a black and white photo of a group of children excercising in a school yard. They're all wearing World War Two gas masks.

Poppies make a very good symbol for remembrance for several reasons. They were the only flower that grew easily on the battlefields after World War One. They're very delicate flowers too, that only live for a short time, which is rather like the young men killed in battle.

The colour is important too - what does the bright red remind you of? Can you see why some people might think that fields of popies look like fields of blood?

The Royal British Legion use money raised on Poppy Day and at other events through the year to help thousands of ex-soldiers and their families. They also organise festivals, parades and church services of Remembrance.

So - now you know! Those bright red paper flowers are full of history and meaning. They're very special to many, many people.

Shows a black and white photo of a man crouching on the deck of a ship. He's covered in black oil.

This is a photo of a merchant seaman resuced from his sinking ship during World War Two. It's one of the pictures on show in the Cruel Sea exhibition (see below).

© Imperial War Museum.

If you'd like to find out more about either of the World Wars there are many museums around the country full of lots of objects, art and information.

We've put together a list to start you off, but do check out your local museum too.

The Imperial War Museum has three branches, in London, Manchester and Duxford.

The Red House Museum in Gomersal is showing an exhibition about life in Britain during the war. 'All Clear on the Home Front' opens on Saturday November 13 2004 and closes on November 13 2005.

If you live in Liverpool you have until December 5 2004 to see Merseyside Maritime Museum's 'Spirit of the Blitz' exhibition.

The Eden Camp Modern History Theme Museum in Yorkshire is another great place to visit.

An exhibition called 'Cruel Sea' is opening at the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum in Bristol on November 11 2004 and is showing until February 11 2005.

Cruel Sea looks at the fate of the Merchant Navy during World War Two and includes interviews with men who survived, recorded by Bristol teenagers.

Anra Kennedy