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Poppy appeal: Why people started wearing the symbol 95 years ago

Fifa has controversially banned England and Scotland from wearing poppies at Wembley.

"In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row."

So begins the poem written during the First World War by John McCrae, a Canadian physician mourning the loss of his fellow soldier and friend.

The first three verses of his collection of work published in 1919 have gone on to inspire other feelings, memories and writers. It also became the inspiration behind the very first poppy appeal of 1921.

American YMCA worker Moina Michael campaigned for her own organisation to recognise the poppy as a symbol of remembrance in tribute to the poem.

It was formally adopted in 1920 and the following year the first batch of artificial poppies was sold by Anna Guerin in London.

It was there that Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, came across Ms Guerin and encouraged the sale of the symbol.

The idea was so warmly received he decided to share the initiative in another charity he had helped formally set up in 1921 - The Royal British Legion.

The legion aims to help both veterans and those serving in a number of military forces in Britain, as well as their families.

Although it did not receive its royal charter for another 50 years, the early days of the legion were heavily associated with the poppy and it is a symbol that remains in the public eye to this day around the world.

Traditionally poppies are first worn in late-October and remain until Armistice Day (November 11, making the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the First World War ceased).

Despite their short presence in the public eye for the appeal there is a constant effort to ensure there are enough each November.

In March 1926, the Lady Haig Poppy Factory was opened to make the slightly different poppies for Scotland.

They moved into Warriston Road in 1965 and since then 40 ex-servicemen work all year round to produce and dispatch:

  • Five million poppies
  • 12,000 wreaths
  • 25,000 collection tins
Poppy factory: Nick Clegg visiting Edinburgh in 2010.
Poppy factory: Nick Clegg visiting Edinburgh in 2010. PA

In England 30 ex-servicemen work with 30 home care workers at a similar factory which has been running in Richmond, London, since 1922 and annually make:

  • 11.4 million poppies
  • 135,000 wreaths
  • 1.1 million remembrance symbols (such as crosses and symbols for other faiths)

Poppy Scotland states on its website that it raised £3.6m last year and spent £3m on charitable activities - meaning it "must raise more than £10,000 a day to continue our work".

Awareness is raised on a regular basis as well with recent First World War commemorations being brought to Orkney and a 23ft Every Man Remembered statue being unveiled in George Square for this year's charity drive.

Recent controversy in sport

  • In 2010, Celtic were forced to apologise and issue a warning to fans who unfurled a banner (which was incorrectly spelt) protesting against the Hoops wearing poppies. 
  • A year later, England appealed to Fifa to wear the poppy in a friendly match with Spain but this was denied as political statements are not allowed. The poppy appeared on black armbands instead.
  • Derry-born James McLean has refused to wear a poppy on his Premier League shirts since 2012 because of what it represents in his hometown (where six people were killed on Bloody Sunday in 1972).
  • And now Fifa has banned Scotland and England from wearing the poppy on their strips at Wembley on November 11. It is not yet known if both sides will replace this with black armbands again.

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