Since 1920, the red poppy has been used as a symbol of commemoration. They were the first plants to bloom in the battlefields of Northern France and Belgium.
In the folklore of soldiers, the vivid red colouring of the poppy came from the blood of their comrades soaking into the earth. The poppy flower grew rapidly and in large numbers across the graves of thousands of soldiers, leading it to become a symbol of sacrifice and loss.
It was these poppies, springing up on the battlefields, that inspired Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to pen the most notable poem of the time, “In Flanders Fields”.
The tradition of wearing the poppy began just before the official armistice of 1918. The secretary of the American YMCA, Moina Michael, read John McCrae’s poem and was so moved by it that she decided to wear a red poppy as a personal commemorative ritual. She believed that, by wearing the poppy, she was partaking in the faith that John McCrae had spoken of in his poem. In November of 1918, the YMCA secretaries took part in a worldwide meeting, allowing Moina Michael the opportunity to discuss the poem and why she chose to wear the red poppy. Inspired, the French YMCA secretary Anna Guérun, began to sell poppies in order to raise funds for war widows, orphans, veterans and their families.
It wasn’t long before the poppy became a widely accepted symbol of remembrance throughout the allied nations. As a result, it has been worn on Armistice Day ever since. Poppies were first sold in Australia in 1921. In the lead up to Remembrance Day, they continue to be sold by the RSL in order to raise funds for veteran welfare programs.