by Amie Tennant
Countries in the British Commonwealth observe Remembrance Day every November 11 by wearing Remembrance Day poppies and honoring those who fought in World War I. Learn how this tradition began, and research your own World War I ancestors.
What Is the Significance of World War I Remembrance Day Poppies?
World War I Remembrance Day Poppies are a symbol of respect and remembrance of those who died in World War I. The field poppy, hardy yet delicate, was a common part of the landscape on the Western Front during the Great War. After being heavily bombed and scarred, the land did not lend itself to growing much. In his famous poem, “In Flanders Fields,” Canadian-born John McCrae wrote about this pretty red flower that grew over the graves of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice and that beautified the devastated countryside.
Major John McCrae of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery had been stationed in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in April 1915. In an area known as Flanders, Canadian troops made their first major appearance at the Second Battle of Ypres. Within 48 hours, over 6,000 Canadians died in Flanders fields. While this terrible scene unfolded, McCrae’s friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed by artillery fire. Lieutenant Helmer, like many others, was buried in a make-do grave in the surrounding fields of Flanders. McCrae later noticed the many graves scattered about were blooming with wild poppies. That scene inspired the writing of his famous poem, which was published in Punch magazine on December 8, 1915.
Though the poem was published in 1915 and World War I ended in November 1918, the wearing of the World War I Remembrance Day poppies was not initiated until 1921. Today, McCrae’s poem continues to hold significance during Remembrance Day (also known as Armistice Day) celebrations in Canada and Europe and Memorial and Veterans Day celebrations in the United States.
When Should You Wear World War I Remembrance Poppies?
No doubt, you have seen the pretty little flower adorning the lapels of royals and others on several occasions. There is some disagreement about when it is appropriate to wear Remembrance Day poppies. Some say you may start wearing the poppy pins on October 31. Others say that poppies are only appropriate to wear during the 11 days leading up to Remembrance Day.
There is also debate on which shoulder the poppy should be pinned, but as for me, I will do as Queen Elizabeth does and wear it on the left! Wearing the poppy pin over the left breast is to have it close to the heart.
Why Do World War I Remembrance Day Poppies Look Different?
Not all poppy pins look the same. Some have leaves, others do not. Some have four petals and others have two. So, why the discrepancy? Simple. The Royal British Legion produces the poppy pins for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland; Poppyscotland produces poppies for Scotland, and each have their own style for the poppy.
One thing all World War I Remembrance Day poppies have in common is their color. Remembrance poppies are red, not to signify blood, but because red is the natural color of field poppies. Typically, each poppy pin has a black center. Additionally, some may have a green stem or leaf added.
Most poppy pins of the past were made by veterans themselves; however, a private contractor now supplies many of the poppy pins. The sale of poppy pins for Remembrance and Armistice Day is used to raise money for veterans.
Share the Story of World War I Remembrance Day Poppies with Your Children
Research Your World War I Ancestors
Search out your own World War I ancestors with tips shared in the blog post titled “Discover Your Ancestors in World War I Records.” FamilySearch offers an extensive collection of World War I records for you to use—United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, United Kingdom World War I Service Records and Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps Records, and several items for other countries, such as Australia.
Learn more about how to research and honor your World War I ancestors.
1 “Inspiration for the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrae,” GreatWar.co.uk. Accessed 28 May 2018.
2 “John McCrae,” Poets.org. Accessed May 28, 2018.
3 “The Story of the Poppy,” BritishLegion.org. Accessed May 29, 2018.
4 Barbara Ramsay Orr. “Haunting and uplifting: a visit to Flanders Fields,” The Globe and Mail. Accessed May 29, 2018.
5 Poppyscotland.org. Accessed May 28, 2018.
6 “Second Battle of Ypres,” Encyclopedia Britannica. April 15, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.