Why do we wear poppies? Meaning of white, purple, silver, blue and red Remembrance Day poppy badge explained

The Royal British Legion offers a range of different poppies to buy online from its 2021 Poppy Shop

With November now in full swing, you’ll likely start to begin seeing poppies cropping up on people’s clothing and in shops as the UK prepares to observe Remembrance Day.

This year will mark 100 years of the poppy as the official symbol of remembrance.

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This is everything you need to know - and why you might see others wearing poppies that are purple, black or white instead of red.

What does the poppy represent?

The poppy has become a symbol of remembrance for those who have lost their lives in war, with origins tied to World War One.

The Royal British Legion (RBL) says: “Our red poppy is a symbol of both Remembrance and hope for a peaceful future.”

During WWI, much of the fighting that occurred took place in Western Europe, where the countryside was repeatedly bombed and fought over. What were once beautiful landscapes turned to dirt, where very little would grow.

Remembrance poppies at a war memorial in Hartlepool (Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

However, red Flanders poppies thrived in the churned up soil, and thousands flourished.

A Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who had recently lost a friend in Ypres, was moved by the sight of the poppies and wrote his poem In Flanders Fields in 1915.

McCrae’s poem went on to inspire American humanitarian Moina Michael, who campaigned to make the poppy a symbol of remembrance for those who had died in the war when she, in 1918, after she wrote her poem We Shall Keep the Faith.

In We Shall Keep the Faith, Michael wrote: “And now the Torch and Poppy Red, we wear in honor of our dead.”

While she aimed to make the poppy an official symbol across the United States, others did the same in Canada, Australia and the UK.

A person wearing a Remembrance Day poppy (Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

The first artificial poppies were sold in the UK in 1921, by Anna Guérin, a French woman who persuaded Earl Haig, the founder of the RBL, to adopt the poppy as its emblem.

The RBL, which itself formed in 1921, ordered nine million poppies, and sold them on 11 November that year.

According to the RBL, the first Poppy Appeal sold out “almost immediately” and “raised over £106,000 to help veterans with housing and jobs”.

You can buy poppies online from the RBL shop.

What do the different colours of poppy mean?

While the most common colour of poppy you’ll see people wearing is red, to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives in WWI, and the conflicts that followed, chances are that you’ll see some variations on the colours of poppies being worn.

The purple poppy is to remember the animals that have been victims of war, particularly the horses that were killed or injured during WWI. Donations to the Purple Poppy Appeal, organised by the War Horse Memorial, go to charities such as the World Horse Welfare.

The purple poppy remembers the animals that have been killed or injured in war (Photo: War Horse Memorial)

The black poppy is associated with the commemoration of Black, African and Caribbean communities’ contributions to the war effort.

The white poppy, from the charity Peace Pledge Union, represents “remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace and a challenge to attempts to glamorise or celebrate war”.

You may also see other poppies in different colours, like blue, but these colours don’t hold any significant meaning.

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