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How the Poppy Appeal began

Canadian doctor John McCrae was serving in Flanders with the Canadian Armed Forces when, having seen the poppy survive the bloody conflicts in northern France, he wrote his 1915 poem In Flanders' Fields.

In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' fields.

Moina Michael, an American War Secretary with the YMCA, was moved by this poem to buy poppies with money collected from her work colleagues, and sold them to friends to raise funds for ex-Servicemen. Her French colleague, Madame Guerin, suggested the sale of artificial poppies to the Legion in August 1921 in order to help the ex-Service community in Britain.

The first donations for artificial poppies were given in Britain on 11 November 1921, raising £106,000 - an equivalent spending power of more than £3.1million in today's terms, a huge sum for the time.

Major George Howson, a young infantry officer, had formed the Disabled Society to help disabled ex-Service people from World War One. Howson suggested to the Legion that Society members should make poppies, and the artificial flowers were designed so that someone who had lost the use of a hand could assemble them with one hand - a principle that has endured. This suggestion led to the foundation of the Poppy Factory at Richmond, Surrey, in 1922, where poppies are still made today.

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Royal British Legion

Information is the currency of victory on the battlefield.
GEN Gordon Sullivan, CSA (1993)