Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

White poppies

In the United Kingdom the red poppy is well-known as a symbol of remembrance of those who died in the First World War and subsequent wars.  It is a symbol much worn by the ‘establishment’ – the royal family, politicians and television presenters – from late October until Remembrance Sunday, in November, each year.  In recent years there has been a tendency for these poppies to be worn, or be seen on war memorials, throughout the year.  Some people regard this as a sign of increasing militarism.

The alternative white poppy is less well-known, but, at present, appears to be growing in popularity.  These were initially promoted by the Co-operative Women’s Guild in 1933, as ‘a pledge to peace that wars must never happen again’.  It was intended to extend ‘the narrow nationalistic and militaristic view of Remembrance to remembering all the dead of wars, irrespective of nationality, civilians as well as those in the armed services.’  The use of white poppies reached its peak in 1938, but they continued to be used sporadically until 1980, when they were adopted by the Peace Pledge Union.  In 1988 the Union expected to sell 50,000 white poppies.  In 2015 the PPU claimed to have sold a record 100,000 poppies, and they expect to break this record in 2016:  ‘With hate crime and zenophobia on the rise, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) said that Remembrance Day should not be misused to promote nationalistic and militaristic feelings’.

Information from leaflets produced by the PPU in 1988; P. Seed, Quakers and the white poppy, Quaker Monthly 67: 218-20, 1988; The Friend, 20 November 2015 and 28 October 2016.

Images:  main, poppy purchased at Friends House, Euston, London Borough of Camden, October 2016; inset, (c.1930?) peace poppy, in ‘People Power: Fighting for Peace’, a temporary exhibition, now closed, at the Imperial War Museum, London, August 2017.

Updated 28 August 2017.