I am not from a Commonwealth country and stumbled on some Twitch recordings over the fact that on 11/12th of November, some people (Canadians) would display poppies to remember the end of the first world war.

Where has this custom to use Poppies as a remembrance item for the end of WW1 originated and how came it to be?

  • 3
    In Flanders Fields Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 15:34
  • 1
    Not only Canadians, happens wherever the British tend to be - even if they work abroad...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


Origin of the symbol

The association of the poppy with the Great War is rooted in its first year, during the second battle of Ypres. Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, a Canadian artillery officer, was killed by an incoming shell in May, 1915. His friend, the unit's doctor, Maj. John McCrae, was asked to preside over the graveside service for Helmer. Soon after this McCrae composed a short three stanza poem, In Flanders Fields, the first stanza of which is:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow1
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

1 - some versions print grow

The poem became one of the most quoted poems from the war.

The European field poppyThe European field poppy, Papaver rhoeas


As the war ended in 1918, American professor Moina Michael, inspired by the poem, began wearing a red silk poppy as a remembrance of those who served in the war. She promoted this at various events, and at one a Frenchwoman, Anna Guérin, took up the idea and began selling artificial poppies as remembrance symbols. In 1921, she began offering them in London, and Field Marshal Douglas Haig began wearing them. From there, the tradition spread to Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The choice of November 11 as the most common day for wearing the poppies is because that was the day the Armistice of 11 November 1918 took effect.

  • To add to the answer, seeds of poppies lie deep in the ground. When the soil is somehow disturbed (ravaged by artillery in our example), they emerge on the surface and activate influenced by the sunlight. Other plants were mostly destroyed so poppies use the opportunity to cover battlefield.
    – rs.29
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 18:27
  • @rs.29: You are on the right track - but it has less to do with the seeds as with the changed chemical composition of the soil turned up by the explosives. Greatly increased alkali from overturned lime made poppies almost the only plant that would grow. If ytou research andd write this up I will up-vote it. Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 2:14

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