Remembrance October 2015

What is the poppy appeal?

The real story behind the symbolic red flower

By The Royal British Legion, Tokyo Branch

  • Remembrance Service this year will be on 11 November
  • Royal British Legion supports former, current service personnel
  • The poppy is a symbol of hope, not support for war

On 11 November, Remembrance Day, Commonwealth nations pause in respect for the brave men and women in their armed forces and all who sacrificed their lives for freedom.

In Japan, there is an annual ceremony in the Commonwealth War Cemetery, constructed in 1945 in Yokohama City. This Remembrance Day, ambassadors, heads of Commonwealth missions, diplomats and representatives of various service and other organisations will gather there to lay wreaths at The Cross of Sacrifice.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the cemetery on behalf of the governments of the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Pakistan.

It is the only such site in Japan, and contains almost 1,900 World War II-related burials and commemorations. Most are British, other Commonwealth, Dutch or US soldiers, sailors, airmen and merchant fleet personnel who died as prisoners of war in or near Japan.

There is also a section for those who died while serving with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in 1946–’48 or in the Korean War of 1950–’53.

The Royal British Legion is the UK’s custodian of remembrance. It plays a key role in safeguarding the covenant between the nation and its armed forces through the annual Poppy Appeal in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day.

The legion was founded in 1921 after WW I to help care for wounded service personnel. That work continued throughout World War II, the Korean War, the Falklands War, the Gulf War and, more recently, operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Sadly, there are always service men and women and members of their families in need of assistance. More than 12,000 British men and women have been killed or injured in active service since 1945.

The legion is one of the UK’s largest membership organisations. It welcomes people of all ages, whether or not they have served in, or have connections to, the armed forces. It is also one of the nation’s biggest charities, providing financial, social and emotional support to millions of former and current service personnel, their families and dependants.

One recent major initiative is the Battle Back Challenge Centre in the West Midlands, set up to help rehabilitate young men and women incapacitated while serving their country.

The Poppy Appeal

During World War I, much of the fighting was in western Europe. The combatants blasted beautiful countryside into bleak and barren fields of mud where little or nothing could grow. Although delicate, bright red Flanders poppies flourished amid the death and destruction.

The sight inspired Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae MD to pen In Flanders Fields in May 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Belgium.

The poem prompted US academic Moina Michael to make and sell red silk poppies that Anna Guérin of France took to England. When formed in 1921, the Royal British Legion ordered 9mn poppies for sale on 11 November that year.

They sold out almost immediately, raising more than £106,000—then a considerable sum—to help war veterans with employment, housing and other needs.

The following year, Major George Howson MC set up The Poppy Factory in Surrey to employ disabled ex-servicemen. Now, that factory and the legion’s warehouse in Kent produce more than 40mn poppies each year for the Poppy Appeal.

Wearing a poppy is a personal choice and is greatly appreciated by those it helps.

The poppy is:
  • A symbol of remembrance and hope
  • Worn by millions of people
  • Red because it is the colour of Flanders poppies
The poppy is not:
  • A symbol of death or a sign of support for war
  • A reflection of politics or religion
  • Red to reflect the colour of blood