This blog was written by our new Archivist - Jane Donaldson


Sale Co-operative Women’s Guild Banner, 1983 

At this time of year, many people wear a red poppy for Remembrance Day. It is worn as a symbol of memory and hope, for those who gave their lives in battle. Some people choose to wear a white poppy for peace, either on its own or together with a red poppy, and there are wreaths of white poppies placed at war memorials on Remembrance Sunday.  But do you know the origins of the white poppy? 

The red poppy began to be worn for Armistice Day in 1921 and was inspired by the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by Canadian John McCrae. In 1921, Earl Haig, the founder of the Royal British Legion who still distribute the red poppy, was persuaded to adopt the poppy as their emblem in the UK.  

The idea for a white poppy was first put forward in 1926 by the No More War movement and taken up by the Co-operative Women’s Guild (CWG) in 1933.  Members of the CWG actively campaigned on a number of women's issues and many were working women who had lost loved ones in World War One and could see the effect it had on those who survived.  


Women's Co-operative Guild 'Peace' certificate early 1900s.  Co-operative Women's Guild, Lancashire Region LCWG/9/5/4 

They were worried by the growing militarisation of Remembrance events and the detachment between the red poppy and the need to work for peace. The Guild's General Secretary, Eleanor Barton, called for renewed commitment "to that 'Never Again' spirit that was strong in 1918, but seems to grow weaker as years go on". 
Several branches of the CWG approached the Central Committee to ask for an emblem which could be worn by guildswomen to publicly show their anti-war beliefs and to recognise all casualties of war including citizens.  The white poppy was chosen as a symbol for peace and has become a focus for the peace movement. 

There were no white poppies ready for Armistice Day in 1933 so some women made their own but by 1938 poppies were being produced and around 80,000 poppies were sold.   

The white poppy became a focus for the peace movement in general and was not to detract from the red poppy. The Co-operative Women’s Guild took part in demonstrations for peace in the 1930s, trying to get permission for laying wreaths at war memorials and, as this article in the Co-op Express shows, came up against some opposition. 


Co-operative News 1938 November 5 p1 

Today, white poppies are distributed by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). The white poppy stands for 3 things: remembrance of all victims of war, challenging war and militarism, and a commitment to peace.  This year they have worked with a co-operative design company to make the poppy environmentally friendly.

Wearing poppies or not should be a personal choice.  

Rose Simpson, General Secretary of the Guild, wrote in 1938; 

“The Women’s Co-operative Guild has no quarrel with the red Flanders poppy of Remembrance, but they adopted the white poppy as their peace emblem, to be worn on Armistice Day, and throughout Armistice Week, because they are pledged to do all they can to prevent another war. The white poppy is not a piece of political propaganda, it is a pledge to peace that war will never happen again.” 


The Royal British Legion has no official opinion on the wearing of white poppies, stating that it "is a matter of choice, the Legion doesn't have a problem whether you wear a red one or a white one, both or none at all".  

To read more about the white poppy and the Co-operative Women’s Guild there is a post on the Working Class Movement Library blog.