Poppies and Remembrance Day have been a celebration of the Armed Forces for decades. On a Heritage Open Day, I visited Sir Frederick Lister House in Birkenhead, in the Wirral peninsula. There, I find out more details about the Poppy Appeal and British Legion.
In 1919, Lance Bombardier Thomas Frederick Lister was medically discharged from the British Army. After his return to Birkenhead, he was shocked to discover the living conditions of ex-service men. Some of them, were living rough in the woods on Bidston Hill, nearby. They were depending on small groups of people who were providing some food, like soup or bread and jam.
Thomas had a job as a clerk with the Royal Insurance Company of Liverpool. He and Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig decided to try and bring the small charity groups into one more organised group. The house where The Royal British Legion started in Wirral is the one I’ve visited and is still in use today. They had Royal patronage from the beginning, in 1921.
How I got inspired to make the poppies? Well, by listening and reading about the history of the British Legion and the Poppy Appeal.
In Spring 1915, after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was inspired to write the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields. After the First World War, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance.
At British Legion, to raise money, they made the Poppy Appeal. In 1921, an American, Moina Michael, made silk poppies, that were brought to England. The British Legion ordered 9 million poppies and they were sold out fast raising a large amount of money for that time. Next year, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory to employ disabled ex-Servicemen. Even today, the factory makes the well know paper poppies that are sold every year. Another factory was made in Scotland due to high demand and, as almost a century ago, the poppies are made by hand by disabled ex-Servicemen.
I was inspired and I thought how to make them. The design has slightly changed in the last couple of years, but is still the same concept.
Let’s read the poem again.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
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.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields.