What Do Poppies Have To Do With Remembrance Sunday?

Poppies are worn in the run-up to Remembrance Day
Poppies are worn in the run-up to Remembrance Day | © Andy Rain/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

On 11 November every year, Brits adorn their lapels with poppies fashioned from felt, cotton and paper to honour fallen soldiers. While the poppies certainly brighten up an outfit, their history as a symbol of remembrance reminds us of the horrors of war and the importance of healing.

Poppy wreaths are placed at the bases of war memorials

Adorning buttonholes across the United Kingdom, red poppies are typically worn during the days leading up to Remembrance Day when the country comes together to honour the dead of World War I. As one of the most recognisable symbols of public support, poppies are central to most Remembrance Day celebrations. Most notably, wreaths of poppies are laid before the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall, the nation’s official war memorial.

But why poppies? The flowers are striking, their deep scarlet colour reminiscent of bloodshed, but the reason they are worn actually has to do with the effects of warfare on the physical landscapes where WWI was fought.

Part of ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’, Tower of London, 2014

As a doctor, McCrae saw the effects of war first-hand. The destructiveness of new chemical and mechanical weapons used during WWI resulted in mortality rates and injuries at levels that had never been seen before. For McCrae, the poppies that arose from the destruction in Flanders were symbolic of fallen soldiers’ souls rising from the ground where they paid the ultimate price for their countries. The poem’s tone, hauntingly sombre, reflects his thoughts on the senselessness of the levels of violence he witnessed.

Members of the public view the Tower of London’s poppy installation

The poem prompted Moina Michael, an American humanitarian, to write a response to McCrae’s poem in 1918 titled We Shall Keep Faith. While In Flanders Fields focuses mostly on the fate of the fallen, We Shall Keep Faith is centred on the importance of remembrance among the living. The final lines of the poem remind the reader that the sacrifice paid by soldiers can only be fully honoured if their stories continue to be told: “Fear not that ye have died for naught / We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought / In Flanders Fields.”

Michael has been credited with establishing the red poppy as a symbol of WWI and since its introduction in 1921 has been central to modern-day remembrance of the war. In 2014, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, a display of ceramic poppies, was ‘planted’ at the Tower of London moat to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of WWI. And to mark the centenary of the war’s end in 2018, a cascade of the same ceramic poppies was installed on London’s Imperial War Museum in a display titled The Weeping Window.

‘The Weeping Window’ at IWM London by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper

In recent years, the red poppy has become a symbol of remembrance for veterans of all wars, while white and purple poppies are also worn to remember how warfare affects more than just soldiers.

White poppies, distributed by the Peace Pledge Union, are worn in remembrance of all victims of war, civilian and military, and are meant to represent a commitment to world peace. Purple poppies were created in 2006 to commemorate military service animals who died or were injured in war; a touching memorial to these animals can be found just outside Hyde Park.

A volunteer plants red ceramic poppies at the Tower of London

As modern conversations about the lasting effects of warfare on the world as a whole evolve, poppies have been used as a symbolic shorthand to facilitate difficult conversations about the tragedy of war. Whether it be red, white or purple, the symbolic poppy serves as a physical reminder of how much sacrifice is involved in warfare.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article