In Depth

What do the different coloured poppies mean?

There are several to choose from

As we approach November, citizens of the UK and other Commonwealth nations are gearing up to pay tribute to fallen war heroes on Remembrance Day.

However, there has been a growing trend in recent years whereby some people eschew the iconic red poppy in favour of poppies in range of colours, representing different causes and ideas.

On 11 November and the days around it, many people choose to wear a red poppy as “a symbol for those who have given their lives in battle”, The Independent says.

So what are the different colour poppies people wear and what do they mean?

What is the white poppy?

The red paper poppy was initially adopted as a symbol for those who fought in the First World War, and was introduced by the American Legion in 1921. Today it is more commonly used in the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The flower was chosen “because it grows wild in many fields in northern France and Belgium - where some of the deadliest battles of World War One took place”, the BBC reports. 

The white poppy, on the other hand, was designed by the Co-operative Women's Guild in 1933 and adopted the following year by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) as a symbol of anti-war and pacifist sentiment, the Daily Mirror says.

“There are three elements to the meaning of white poppies: they represent remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace and a challenge to attempts to glamorise or celebrate war,” the PPU website says.

What is the purple poppy?

The Purple Poppy Campaign was first founded by Animal Aid, the UK’s oldest and largest animal rights group, in order to remember the millions of animals who killed during the First World War and to honour the animals in service today. Approximately eight million horses, donkeys, and pigeons were killed in the First World War.

However, in 2015, Animal Aid founder Andy Smith swapped the poppies for a purple paw badge, available for purchase on their website.

“Our aim was to make it clear that animals used in warfare are indeed victims, not heroes,” Smith told The Evening Standard.

The campaign was spearheaded in 2016 by Murphy’s Army, a West Yorkshire charity group for missing animals. Poppies are still available for purchase on their website, but the site reports they are selling out fast.  

What is the black poppy?

The black poppy is most commonly associated with the remembrance of black, African, and Caribbean contributions to the war effort.  

The initiative, titled “Black Poppy Rose,” was launched in 2010 and aims to make the black poppy a nation-wide symbol of remembrance.

“Whilst we do not wish to focus on negative aspects of history, we feel that it is important that our ancestors are recognised for their dues, of which many lost their lives in the process,” says the Black Poppy Rose website.

Black poppies are available for sale here

What was the khadi poppy?

For Remembrance Day 2018 – the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War – Conservative Party donor Lord Jitesh Gadhia and the Royal British Legion launched the “khadi poppy”.

This design, which was the same deep red as the original poppy, replaced the current paper style and was instead crafted from khadi, a traditional hand-woven cloth from India which bears similarities to “Gandhi’s iconic clothing”, the BBC says.

The idea behind the khadi poppy was to pay tribute to and raise awareness of the service to the British Empire of people from South Asia during the First World War.

The subcontinent suffered greatly during the conflict. “Muslim, Sikh and Hindu men volunteered in the Indian Expeditionary Force, which was the largest of the British Empire’s Armed Forces besides the British Army itself,” wrote Major Naveed Muhammad in The Independent last year.

“Indian troops were awarded over 13,000 medals for their brave service. Among them was Khudadad Khan, who was the first Indian and Muslim recipient of the Victoria Cross in 1914,” he added.

Despite being worn by a number of high-profile politicians and athletes after its launch, it does not appear to have been issued by the Royal British Legion for this year’s Remembrance Day.

Why is the red poppy controversial?

The Royal British Legion is clear that the red poppy is not a sign of support for war and death.

When it was first adopted, it represented mourning and served as a pledge that war must never happen again. Indeed, the words “never again” were emblazoned on the original design.

However, a number of issues have caused people to turn to the white poppy. The Guardian reports that many white poppy wearers believe the red poppy “symbolises remembrance of British armed forces and its allies rather than enemies and civilians who also died in wars”. 

Others “feel the red poppy has become political, and that politicians use it to help justify war”, the BBC adds.

“In Northern Ireland, for example, it became regarded as a Protestant Loyalist symbol because of its connection with British patriotism,” the PPU website says.

Some people choose to wear the white poppy as a protest against “poppy policing” or “poppy fascism” – in which “people are lambasted for not wearing the flower”, The Independent report.

But not everyone is convinced by such arguments. This week, Conservative MP and former British Army captain Johnny Mercer dismissed the white poppy movement as “attention-seeking rubbish”.

In 2017, Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan, criticised the sale of white poppies in schools as “misguided”, telling The Sunday Telegraph: “I think it is perfectly reasonably for schools to discuss different political perspectives, but they should not be indoctrinating children with a left-wing political agenda.” 

But the Royal British Legion has no problem with the white poppy, saying: “We have no objection to white poppies, or any group expressing their views.

“We see no conflict in wearing the red poppy alongside the white poppy. We do ask that the items are not offered alongside each other, however, as this would confuse the public.”


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