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Remembering the First World War

As we approach the centenary of the end of the First World War, it’s important to think about how we carry remembering those who gave their lives for our freedom. One of the most visual ways of showing our  , but where did this association originate?

The ‘popaver rhoeas’ is a bright red poppy that has become a strong symbol in the remembrance of past conflicts. The flowers bloom naturally in even tough conditions throughout the fields of Western Europe. Incredibly, the immense destruction of the Napoleonic wars of the 19th century left barren land that suddenly became full of blood-red poppies. They were said to have sprouted around the dead bodies of fallen soldiers.

When war struck Europe again during the devastation of World War I, the fields and ground of Western Europe were once again ripped open from battle. When the conflict ended, one of the only plants to grow out of the damaged ground were again the red poppies.

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The story of the battlefield poppy was brought to global attention as a symbol of remembrance by a Canadian surgeon called John McCrae. He wrote a poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ and from then on, the poppy became known as a lasting memorial to those who perished in the Great War and the conflicts yet to come. Remembrance can come in many forms. WWI saw the very first tanks ever in action. Why not spend a day seeing what life would have been like as part of a tank command? For tank driving days, visit

When the Royal British Legion formed in 1921, they adopted the poppy for their Poppy Appeal which was set up to help all those who serve in the British Armed Forces.

Another powerful remembrance symbol is the white poppy. This was introduced in 1933 by the Women’s Co-operative Guild to represent peace and an end to war. The Royal British Legion refused to associate with it and so it was produced by the Co-operative Wholesale Society to be worn on Armistice and Remembrance Day. Many veterans felt offended by the white poppy, although it was never designed to cause offence. They felt it undermined the significance of the red poppy. Such was the severity of the issue that many women lost their jobs over it. The scheme is now operated by the Peace Pledge Union.

Another symbol of remembrance is the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. The current monument is made from Portland stone and simply inscribed with ‘The Glorious Dead’. For 90 years, this monument has been the focal point for official Remembrance Services but how did it become such an important symbol?

The monument was requested by the Prime Minister in 1919, Lloyd George. It was originally only meant to serve a small part in the Peace Day celebrations of 1919. Cenotaph means ‘empty tomb’ in Greek and the original monument was only made from wood and plaster. On its unveiling, however, the base was immediately covered with wreaths dedicated to the dead and the missing of the First World War. The public outpouring was so extensive that it was decided a permanent memorial should be constructed.


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