After succeeding in her quest to achieve support in Canada for her ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ scheme, and after sending Colonel Moffat to Australia and New Zealand (possibly South Africa too), Anna Guérin next looked towards Great Britain.
On 04 July 1921, the Port Arthur News Chronicle had stated that, if Madame Guérin was successful at the Great War Veterans’ Association meeting that day, she would “proceed almost immediately to England to ask the Prince of Wales to become head of the Poppy Day movement in England.”
The mention of the Prince of Wales is not as far-fetched as it might sound because it had been reported that Anna had performed for members of the British Royal Family during her tours within Great Britain, 1911-1914. Given her powers of persuasion and charm, she was more than capable of achieving a personal audience with HRH Prince of Wales – in his role as Patron of the British Legion. But who knows?
The British Legion was formed from four national organisations on 15 May 1921:- Officers Association; Scottish Federation of Ex-servicemen; the Comrades of the Great War; and the National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers. HRH Prince of Wales became its first Patron, Earl Haig became its first President. “Royal” became part of the title in 1971. Prior to that, around August 1920, Earl Haig had began his Fund to aid ex-service men.
Having sent Colonel S.A. Moffat off to Australia & New Zealand; and having left her sister Juliette and her friend Blanche in charge of all the arrangements in Canada, Anna left for England. It was on 29 August 1921 that Anna arrived in Liverpool, from New York. On SS Albania’s Passenger List, she was described as a “Lecturer”. Her age was given as “40”, but she was really 43.
It would appear that Anna wasted no time, once she had disembarked. She must have boarded a train immediately and travelled south. Her proposed destination shown on the ship’s Passenger List was the Piccadilly Hotel in, significantly, Regent Street, London.
Once in London, Anna Guérin visited the British Legion headquarters at No. 1 Regent Street – along from her hotel. Whether she had sent a cablegram to them from Canada, ahead of her arrival, or HRH the Prince of Wales had put in a good word for her … is not known. In her Synopsis (1941), Anna Guérin described going to London after Canada “where the English Veterans’ Organisation was in the great need”.
There must have been some prior contact though because, reportedly before her arrival, Colonel George Crosfield (who would hold the post of Legion Chairman 1927-1930) asked General Secretary Colonel Edward Charles Heath DSO if he would meet with Madame Guérin. Anna Guérin showed the two British Legion men samples of her artificial poppies. She asked if they would consider adopting the remembrance poppy symbol.
Anna Guérin wrote in her 1941 Synopsis [sic]: “Field Marshall Haig , the President , called a meeting where I explain the Idea which was adopted immediately , but they had no money in the Treasury to order their Poppies . It was September and the Armistice day in November. I offered them to order their Poppies in France for them , so my own responsibility , that they would paid them after . Gladly they accepted my offer .
Sir Francis* went to Paris with me and we made the arrangement , we ordered for 1 million flowers of silk poppies. Their first National Flanders ‘ Poppy day was an enormous success and it has developed so well , so big that for the past 15 years the ENGLISH EMPIRE was selling 25.000.000 flanders ‘ Poppies on Armistice day , poppies made by the disabled soldiers in a factory near Birmingham.”
*Is Anna Guérin’s “Sir Francis” one Frances William Crewe Godley, who changed his name to Francis William Crewe Fetherston-Godley in 1923? He served in the First World War and became an OBE in 1918. He was not a Knight in 1921, when Anna Guérin was meeting British Legion men – he became a “Sir” in 1937. He was Vice-Chairman of the British Legion National Executive Committee 1932-34 and became Chairman in 1935. Or did she mean to write “Sir Herbert” (Brown) … or did both men go?
Ahead of the 1942 Armistice Day, the Gloucester Journal (07 November) printed an article in the paper’s children’s column ‘Children’s Corner. Conducted by Uncle Charlie’ but it would have been thoroughly enlightening to any reader, regardless of age. It recounted that “The Poppy Day idea came to the British Legion rather mysteriously, and there were grave doubts at first as to whether it would “take on” …”.
Included, was Colonel Edward Charles Heath’s version of Madame Guérin’s visit – from an issue of the Legion Journal:- “In the late summer of 1921, Col. Crosfield asked me if I would meet a Madame Guerin. This little French lady visited headquarters and showed us some small artificial ‘poppies’ of a type then being made by certain French women and sold for the benefit of children in the devastated areas of France.
Would the Legion care to adopt the emblem as a means of raising money for its own purposes? There were two firms in France ready to supply the material. She would want a certain percentage for her own organisation in France. The Finance Committee of the National Executive Council was concerned with the raising of funds, which were sorely needed if benevolent work on any reasonable scale was to be undertaken.”
“The project was put to them.
“Poppies! Who wants poppies? Madame Guerin – who is she? What are her credentials? Do the two French firms exist?
“It was August – the sale and collection, if it were to be made, was due for November 11. There was no time to make suitable arrangements on this side of the Channel. If we were to do anything with the idea we must use the French organisation.”
“Col. Heath recalls how Sir Herbert Brown went over to Paris, and how he reported to the next meeting of the Finance Committee that all appeared to be in order. The firms did exist, and they were ready to supply the material to the organisation for making the poppies; the women in the devastated areas of France would make them. Sir Herbert was asked to go back to Paris and order many thousands of poppies.”
Colonel Heath’s recollections present the British Legion as more cautious than Canada’s G.W.V.A. but perhaps that caution was based on having “no money”. The British needed to be sure of who they were dealing with. Madame Guérin’s offer of poppies before payment would have been welcome. She had done this before in the U.S.A., used her own money to help the cause.
As Hon. Appeal Secretary of the British Legion, the significant contribution made by the aforementioned Sir Herbert in Great Britain’s adoption of Madame Guérin’s ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea may never fully be known.
Sir Herbert Brown, KBE (1869-1946), was the second son of Charles Brown and his wife Emily Dunn. Father Charles had founded the flour milling business ‘Charles Brown & Co. Ltd., in Croydon and Bermondsey.
Eventually, Herbert became head of that company. He was very illustrious and successful. He forged strong links with hospitals in the area. He became Chairman and, then, President of the Croydon General Hospital – giving over £20,000 to the hospital, over time. He was a Governor of St. Thomas’ Hospital and Richmond’s ‘Star and Garter Hospital’. Herbert was knighted in 1920 and received the Cross of Officer of the Order of Leopold, of Belgium.
Sir Herbert’s family was no different to many in Great Britain during WW1: for example, his sister had driven a Voluntary Aid Detachment ambulance and his son John Gordon had been killed by a sniper six days before the Armistice.
For his second journey, it is wondered whether Sir Herbert Brown accompanied (for part of the way?) Lieut.-Colonel Crosfield, D.S.O. as he began a venture in France on 20 Sept. 1921: “War memories were revived by a scene at Victoria Station on Tuesday morning, when a party of nearly 200 ex-Service men, unemployed, and devoid of all trappings and pretensions of the soldier, left for Folkestone en route for France, to work in France’s devastated areas.
The party was cheerful, and showed their joy at the prospect of at last securing employment, even though this might entail a lengthy sojourn abroad.
Lieut.-Colonel Crosfield, D.S.O., vice-chairman of the British Legion, who accompanied the men, explained that work had been secured through the Legion’s French organisation.
The work was largely unskilled, and the men would receive the trade union rate of pay in France of two francs (nominally is 1s 8d) per hour for unskilled work and 2.50 francs for skilled labour.
They would live in huts. Mr. J.R. Griffin, assistant secretary to the British Legion, said that this was an experimental party. If it proved to be satisfactory other parties would be sent out.” (Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 21 September 1921)
By 16 September 1921, the British Legion had made its decision to adopt the poppy as the remembrance flower public …. on that day, the Evening Post in Wellington (New Zealand) reported that the Returned Soldiers’ Association was considering a proposal to “adopt the red poppy of Flanders as the national memorial flower, in accordance with the action of the American, Canadian, and English ex-service men’s organisations, …”. With the “English” being mentioned, does that mean that it was official that the British had made the decision?
On 27 September 1921, it was reported in the Toronto Daily Star that the G.W.V.A.’s Dominion Command had received a cable notifying that Great Britain would wear the memorial poppy on the Armistice Day that year. Was that cablegram from the British Legion? If so, was it a courteous reply, updating the Canadian G.W.V.A. because they had sent a cable encouraging the British veterans to follow their lead? … as it is known the G.W.V.A. sent one to Australia.
HRM Prince of Wales did become chairman of the British poppy campaign, jointly with Field Marshal Earl Haig. Haig let it be known that he desired that 11 November 1921 be known as ‘Remembrance Day’ and it would be a ‘Poppy Day’ … like no other flag day. The British newspapers’ promotional articles contained lines from Canadian John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’. It is wondered whether there was a conscience effort to omit the Guérin name from press releases because the name has seldom been found within these. Thus, in Great Britain, Madame Guérin was seldom publicly credited with originating ‘Poppy Day’ or mentioned in any other respect – the inference was it was Earl Haig’s idea.
On 01 October 1921, Madame Anna Guérin set sail across the Atlantic, to return to North America. She left Liverpool on the White Star Line ship ‘Celtic’. She arrived in New York on the 10th, into Canada on 11th. Husband Eugène Guérin could be located in Vallon, at the time of completing passenger documentation. Anna headed back to her sister Juliette in Toronto – – for whom the address given was “Great War Veterans Association, Kent Building, Toronto, Ont.”
British Legion communiqués began being sent out en masse to the likes of County Lord Lieutenants; heads of municipalities (mayors, mayoresses; etc); newspapers; etc. The latter began printing their versions of these notifications towards the end of the first week of October. The following is taken from the Nottingham Evening Post on Wednesday, 05 October 1921:
“THE FLANDERS POPPY. EARL HAIG AND REMEMBRANCE DAY – NOV. 11TH. Field-Marshal Earl Haig, President of the British Legion, desires that Armistice Day (November 11th) should be a “real remembrance day” and proposed to launch several schemes in aid of his appeal for ex-service men of all ranks. One of these is the wearing of the Flanders Poppy to the memory of the men who rest beneath the flower on the fields of Flanders.
This symbol has been accepted in Australia, Canada, and the United States of America as the National Memorial flower to be worn on “Remembrance Day.” There is an added value to these poppies in the fact that they are made by the women and children in the devastated areas of France.
The profits derived from the sale of these flowers will be used by the British Legion to alleviate distress among our ex-service men. Those interested in the project are invited to communicate with Captain W.G. Willcox, organising secretary, Earl Haig’s Appeal, 1, Regent-street, London, S.W.1.”
Some articles also quoted a couple of lines from Canadian John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses row on row.” One such paper (Aberdeen Journal, on Friday 07 October 1921) also made the rare mention of Madame Guérin: “The poppy plan, though now greatly developed, originated with Mme. Guerin, wife of a French judge.”
On and after 12 October 1921, newspapers printed updates such as that which appeared in the Arbroath Herald and Advertiser for the Montrose Burghs (14 October 1921):
“Our London Letter. Armistice Day. The general disposition just now is to avoid expenditure on public ceremonies, but it is to be hoped that the economy campaign will not be allowed to interfere with the proper observance of the anniversary of the close of the war. No official programme has yet been arranged for the commemoration, but the British Legion is pressing the Government to make November 11th an annual national day of remembrance. There is a widespread feeling that is should be marked by a solemn service in Westminster Abbey, where the unknown warrior is buried, as well as by the impressive ceremony at the cenotaph in Whitehall. On the last two anniversaries the solemnity of the occasion has been widely recognised throughout the country by the “two minutes silence,” and there is a general desire that this observance should be continued. Earl Haig, the President of the British Legion, has also suggested the wearing of the poppy on November 11th as the national memorial flower. It grows in profusion in Flanders where so many of our dead are buried, and everybody will be asked to buy and wear an artificial poppy in memory of the men who gave up their lives in the war. The idea is of French origin. It will be financially helpful to the women and children in the devastated areas who are engaged in making the poppies, and it is hoped also that the scheme will raise generous funds for assisting ex-service men of all ranks.”
Not every council felt they could cope (officially) with Earl Haig’s request to arrange a sale of poppies “on Armistice Day for the benefit of the funds of the British Legion” … Budleigh Salterton, in Devon, was one and perhaps it was the only one? The Council passed on their letter from Earl Haig to the local British Legion Branch – the Commandant of that Branch wrote to the Council “deprecating the action”. Captain Bone said “it was regrettable that the impression should get about that the Council were not sympathetic with the appeal.”
The Council Chairman “explained that a letter had been sent in reply pointing out that the Council could not carry out the effort, but were anxious for the success of Poppy Day, and would be quite prepared to see the matter through in their private capacities.”
“The Clerk said Capt. Bone had sent a telephone message expressing thanks for the Council’s action, and regretting the tone of his original letter. It was decided to form a Committee of the members of the Council, with power to add, for the purpose of carrying out Earl Haig’s suggestion.”
Because some town/city groups were late in placing their poppy orders, some could not be fulfilled from France. Reportedly, extra poppies had to be sourced and made in Great Britain – ahead of the ‘Poppy Day’. Unlike the USA and Canada, Anna Guérin had no hand in the organisational arrangements for the 1921 British Poppy Day. Of course, she could have described how her previous successful Poppy Days/Drives had been administered – with efficiency and enthusiasm from a nation’s mothers, wives, daughters, sisters etc …
Women, including those from War Service organisations and the British Legion’s Women’s Section, were called upon by Earl Haig “to give him just a few hours of their time”. As Earl Haig had asked “earnestly” for the women “to help by selling poppies” on 11 November 1921, so did newspapers print “Local Helpers Wanted” articles ahead of Armistice Day.
The photograph above shows General Pershing (Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces) laying a wreath at London’s Cenotaph on 17 October 1921. He was in London to attend a ceremony at the Westminster Abbey, where he laid the Congressional Medal on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Duke of Connaught represented the King and Colonel Streatfield represented Queen Alexandra. Others present included: Lloyd George and some of his Cabinet colleagues; representatives of the British fighting services; and 500 American soldiers from the Rhine. Some of the American soldiers, plus 50 men from the American warship ‘Olympia’, formed a guard of honour at the Abbey. General Pershing arrived in a Royal carriage, with “members of his suite” and the American Ambassador Mr. Harvey. (Northern Whig of Belfast, 18 October 1921 acknowledged).
Returning to the ‘Poppy Day’ campaign: on 27 October 1921. The Banbury Advertiser (Oxfordshire) printed the following “flowery” article about “POPPIES FROM FRANCE” but, as was usual, no mention of Poppy Lady Madame Guérin – only Earl Haig [sic]:
“If ye break faith with those of us who died, we shall not sleep, though poppies bloom in fields of France.”
A great Queen has built for herself a statue of flowers, for in her kindliness Alexandra has said:–“On my day you shall ask the people to remember the sick and suffering, in pink roses.” A great General would build for our great Dead a statue of flowers, for in his remembrance Haig has said:–“On Armistice Day you shall ask the people to remember the dead who never die, in red poppies.” So have two great statues been erected more lasting than brass, for when stone and mortar have fallen and decayed, the poppies will still bloom to remind us of the dead, who cannot die, and the red petals shower down everlasting pictures of the blood so freely shed. We take long to build our memorials. We argue about their shape and the position, and even at the best we but build our little mounds of stone and mud that shall be swept away. Nature requires no time to set up her great memorial, for her poppies grew on the newly-made graves; an ever-recurring and never-dying memorial. Earl Haig is to make the poppy memorial as living as the memory should be. In the devastated areas of France women and little children are making copies of the poppy. These will be sold on Armistice Day and what each of us chooses to think the value of that poppy of memory will help the broken ex-Service man. In Banbury the Flanders Poppies will be sold in all the schools of the town and the streets under the supervision of the Mayoress, who has received a personal invitation from Earl Haig to organise “Poppy Day” in the borough on Armistice Day.”
The Grantham Journal (29 October 1921) wrote “The work of organising the sale of Poppies in each district is distinctly the work of ladies, and those who served during the war, in Women’s Units, or worked in a voluntary capacity at home, are specially invited to pull together once again. It is suggested that those ladies entitled to wear uniform on occasions, and decorations and medals, should do so on “Remembrance Day,” and volunteer to sell Poppies.”
Administration went right up to the last minute …
The Western Daily Press (on Wednesday, 09 November 1921) printed: “POPPY DAY. Field-Marshal Earl Haig is appealing for the loan of motor-cars for “Poppy Day” in Bristol. They will be useful to-day, to-morrow, Friday, and Saturday. Will those willing to lend communicate with Capt. Willcox, Poppy Day Offices, next the Hippodrome, St. Augustine’s Parade. Telephone No. 6031. Lady helpers are still required to sell Flanders poppies on Armistice Day. The Army Council has given permission to soldiers to wear the poppy in their uniform head-dress when not on duty.”
In Dundee, Scotland, the community was making its own poppies – to swell the city’s stock of Poppy Lady Madame Guérin’s French-made ones. The Dundee Courier (11 November 1921) explained with this interesting article [sic]:-
“PREPARING FOR POPPY DAY IN DUNDEE.
Owing to Poppy Day being announced so shortly before the event, Dundee was at first faced with a shortage of “poppies,” but matters have taken a different complexion during the past few days through the efforts of a large number of willing workers in the city.
The number of poppies sent from France was very much less than the estimated requirements, Edinburgh receiving only 100,000 to serve the whole of Scotland. It was evident that of these Dundee could get only a small proportion, and Lord Provost Spence accordingly made it known that something would have to be done to make the effort on behalf of ex-service men more of a success by the manufacture of more poppies.
About the beginning of the week Mr. Robert Hansell, who is in charge of the Deaf and Dumb Institution, Lochee Road, offered the services of his staff to help the Corporation out of their difficulty, and his offer was accepted. The girls in the Institution are taught, as part of their training, to make artificial flowers, in which work they are very quick and skilful. They immediately set to work, and at the same time the teaching staff offered to initiate Dundee school teachers into the mysteries of poppy making. A similar offer in respect to private ladies brought a rush of willing helpers to the Institution, and the movement has grown steadily day by day.
Large numbers of lady teachers are being trained in poppy manufacture in a room of the Cowgate School placed at the disposal of the organisers of the movement, and they in turn teach their pupils the art. Every day, too, numbers of ladies attend at the Deaf and Dumb Institution for lessons.
Our picture shows a number of those ladies at work. All the workers take away the necessary materials to make poppies in spare moments, so that there is a constant deluge of poppies. The other day eight of the senior girls attending Harris Academy took a lesson in the art at the Lochee Road Institution, and yesterday many of the senior girls were busy increasing the total in school.
Mr. Hansell, who all week has been busily engaged in the cause, keeps in touch with all the sources of supply, and during the short but very vigorous campaign he has received good assistance from Misses Drummond, Kenyon, Allen, and Hansell.”
Advertisements, as below, were placed in the newspapers to promote the Poppy Appeal:
With reference to the origin of the Armistice Day’s two minute silence, the following extract is taken from ‘THE LEGEND OF THE POPPY’ by Ken Gillings, Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, 26th October 2015 [sic]: “There is a South African connection in Remembrance Day, the 11th November. On the 27th October 1919, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick (who had lost two brothers in WW1) suggested that a minute’s silence be observed annually on the 11th November the date when the War ended. His suggestion was forwarded to King George V, who proclaimed on the 9th November 1919: “That at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all normal activities – so that in perfect silence the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated in reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”
The King’s private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, wrote the following letter to Fitzpatrick:
“Dear Sir Percy, The King, who learns that you are shortly to leave for South Africa, desires me to assure you that he ever gratefully remembers that the idea of the two minute Pause on Armistice Day was due to your initiation – a suggestion readily adopted and carried out with heartfelt sympathy throughout the Empire.”
“Sir Percy Fitzpatrick” was Sir James Percy FitzPatrick, KCMG. He was born on 24 July 1862 in King William’s Town, Cape Colony (South Africa). Sir James Percy FitzPatrick died 24 January 1931 at (Amanzi), Uitenhage, South Africa. His Irish-born parents were Judge James Coleman FitzPatrick (of the Supreme Court of the Cape Colony) and Jenny FitzGerald (daughter of Peter Nugent Fitzgerald, of ‘Soho House’, Multyfarnham, County Westmeath).
During World War One, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick toured South Africa, lecturing about the war. His son Major Percy Nugent was killed at Bourlon Wood, nr Cambrai, Pas de Calais, France on 14 December 1917. After the Armistice, apart from the two-minute-silence, he conceived the idea of the National South African War Memorial at Delville Wood, Somme, France and he was Committee Chairman for it.
… and so … Armistice Day dawned in Great Britain … Friday 11 November 1921 …
Newspapers of the day promoted and commented about the Poppy Appeal:-
This was a message from Herbert Brown & W.G. Willcox of the British Legion: “Sir. – The Flanders Poppies, which will be obtainable throughout the country on November 11th, are made of silk and cotton. We have fixed price of 3d. as the lowest price at which Flanders poppies can be sold; whilst the larger silk poppies can be sold at not less than one shilling each. In one case we hope the usual sum given will be 6d., the other 2s. 6d.: unless we average 4½p. and 1s. 9d., the Poppy sale will not be a success : every penny will go to the help of the ex-service man through the medium of the British Legion. Many people tell us that in these hard times people cannot afford more than 1d. In reply we can only say we want a sacrifice. We want the Nation to know that they are honouring the dead and the living, and that the Poppy is worn as a symbol of “Remembrance”. “Remembrance Day” it is not “Poppy Day”. May all bear that in mind.” (Bedfordshire Times and Independent)
“REMEMBRANCE DAY. The Two Minutes’ Silence. IMPRESSIVE SCENES. Unemployed’s Wreaths at the Cenotaph.
The true measure of the public gratitude to our fallen heroes seemed intensified a thousandfold in the awe-inspiring an solemn stillness which encompassed the city and east Metropolis at 11 o’clock this morning. The throbbing pulse of the heart of the Empire ceased completely, and every business of every nature bowed its head in reverent homage to the sanctified dead.
The observance of Poppy Day was not the least of the many Armistice anniversary celebrations. The movement was initiated by Earl Haig to obtain funds for disabled ex-Service men, and the public readily responded, sellers of poppies being besieged.
There were impressive scenes in London streets. When the maroons were heard thre was an instant hush. All moving things in the thoroughfares came to a stop. Many women wept, and men stood silently and bareheaded during the two minutes.
Reports from all parts of the country show that Remembrance Day was celebrated with all due solemnity and reverence.
In the Royal Courts of Justice, at London Sessions, and in the Courts throughout London and the country all work ceased. Judges, counsel, officials, and witnesses all stood silently during the short period. … …” (Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail [sic])
The author of the ‘A Woman’s Point of View’ column in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (11.11.1921) wrote the following observation:
“… I have been reading the appeals for poppy-sellers for Armistice Day, both in London and the North, and I see that the response was not what it might have been. If that is so, I don’t think women can be blamed. In the early days of the war emblem or flag sellers were asked for and came forward in large numbers, but later on all flag-selling became discredited. Women were said to sell flags to avoid doing anything else, indeed worse, to pick up acquaintances. A good many busy women will recall the last time they sold emblems for the Y.M.C.A. in the London streets, when the majority of the people they approached replied with something like this: “Can’t you really find something better to do than this sort of thing?” If poppies are to be sold each year on Armistice Day women will come forward fast enough to sell them, if it is understood that it is for the men, and not to pass the time, that they are doing it. …”
The ‘Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald’ (28 July 1923) reminded its readers of the facts still within their memory: “When the idea of Poppy Day was first suggested to the British Legion in 1921 by Mme Guerin of Paris, there were only six weeks in which to organise the scheme throughout the country. The Legion purchased the small “poppies” for 3d. in France, where they were manufactured by the women and children in the devastated areas. These poppies cost £15, 510. The first orders for the 1s. poppies were given to London manufacturers, but the demand was so great that it was impossible to get enough to London, and they had to send to France, Coventry and many parts of the country, and were even then unable to meet all demands. …”
Newspapers, such as the Hartlepool Mail (12 November 1921) described how ‘Poppy Day’ went:
“FLANDERS POPPIES. Basket Sold for £100 at a London “Auction.” All London seemed to go “red” yesterday in honour of “Poppy Day.”
The scarlet petals gave the predominating colour note to the streets, and it was the rarest exception to see the man or woman who did not wear Haig’s buttonhole, in remembrance of the red fields of Flanders.
Earl Haig’s car, decorated from head to tail with poppy blossoms, flew from street to street, like the passage of a great Cardinal-bird.
Princess Alice sold poppies outside Windsor Castle.
A sale of curios at Sotheby’s was interrupted while a basket of poppies was put up for sale. Major Warre, M.C., who acted as auctioneer, purchased the basket for £10.
The basket was put up again, and, after a series of sales, it realised a total of £100.
British film actresses sold kisses at 10s. a time outside St. Paul’s in aid of the fund. Chorus girls of “A to Z” acted as poppy sellers beside the Prince of Wales’s Theatre.”
A newspaper in New Zealand printed news of the day’s commemorations in London. The Press in Canterbury, New Zealand (15 November 1921) printed this piece:
“IN MEMORY OF THE FALLEN. ARMISTICE DAY OBSERVANCE. THE PILGRIMAGE TO WHITEHALL. (By Cable-Press Association —Copyright.) (Australian and N.Z. Cable Association) (Received November 14th, 5.5 p.m.) LONDON, November 14. Two million flower bearing mourners have paid tribute to the fallen at the Cenotaph in Whitehall during the last two days. Whitehall presented a remarkable and touching scene on Sunday, a dense crowd surging towards the Cenotaph which was embanked on all sides with flowers, wreaths and crosses. Two thousand poor people placed their one or two flowers side by side with the rich man’s elaborate offering. There was much comment on the Australian and New Zealand offerings which still stand out prominently, and many affecting references were made in the crowd to the war comradeship of the Imperial and Australian soldiers.”
Below: “This poppy and note from Field Marshal Douglas Haig was laid on the new Cenotaph built in London, on 11th November 1921”: Green Howards Museum.
However, the types of poppy (and one particular purchaser) caused a little dissent. One poppy seller in Hull felt strongly enough to write to her local newspaper: “Sir. Why should there be a distinction between the silk and cotton poppies. I, one of the many collectors, think it is a very wrong idea. The poor man’s penny, given with a free heart (in many cases it is a struggle to spare) is belittled by the ones who wish their gifts to be advertised … many a working girl and man gave their silver, but asked for no distinction, whilst one with a haughty demeanour asked for a silk poppy. On being told that our stand had no silk poppy, he replied, “Very well, I will go to another stand where they have the silk flowers. …” Some people obviously felt that, to have the choice, was divisive e.g. the inference could be made, coppers for cotton poppies, silver for silk poppies.
In the aforementioned children’s article, ‘Uncle Charlie’ wrote about the poppies sold: “A very large number (for those days) were sold on that November 11, and that first Poppy Day of 1921, under a scheme rushed through between August and November, achieved a total of £106,000.” By 23 November, the counting of the huge amount of cash collected in London alone had still not been completed by the bank and money was still pouring in.
However, not everyone had a successful “Poppy Day” in the true sense of the word – Aberdeen missed out on its delivery of French-made poppies but people of the city improvised – as the Aberdeen Journal described on 12 November 1921:
“POPPY DAY” IN ABERDEEN. A regrettable hitch, occasioned by a mistake on the other side of the Channel, and also by the unsettled weather, was accountable for the non-arrival in Aberdeen yesterday of the poppies which were to be sold in the streets on behalf of Earl Haig’s Fund for ex-Service men. The blood-red poppy is the flower most associated with the campaign in Flanders, and everyone who took part in the devastating battles of Ypres and other war-torn villages and plains of France and Belgium will readily remember the blazing mass of colour which used to brighten the shell-scarred trenches and fields when the poppies were in bloom.
To make up for the lack of poppies, flags were distributed, and a large staff of willing helpers, ex-Service men, women, and others were early on the streets collecting for the good cause. Although the stock of flags was limited there was no limit to the amount of the contribution, and everyone gave liberally. Many citizens wore scarlet flowers in their buttonholes as symbolic of the poppy and the sacred nature of the occasion.
Superintendent Findlay, Cleansing Department, was general organising secretary for “Poppy Day in the city, and the conveners for the various wards and district were as follows:- … …
Permission was given to the promoters of the “Day” by the managers of the various theatres and picture houses in the city to take up collections. A bevy of fair young ladies in Highland costume were on duty at the Fish market, and were responsible for collecting a big sum of money.”
Other places improvised too … making their own poppies, when their French-made British Legion supplies sold out. On 18 November 1921, two newspapers explained:
““POPPY DAY.”—It is with great pleasure that we announce that the sale of poppies to be worn as a sign of remembrance on the anniversary of Armistice Day realised the substantial sum of £236 17s. 8d., which amount is being forwarded by His Worship the Mayor (Mr. Councillor Parsonage) to the Headquarters of the British Legion. The expenses in connection with the day have been paid by His Worship the Mayor, Miss Barnett and her lady helpers. The following were the collectors:- …
Unfortunately the British Legion Headquarters had not sufficient poppies to meet the demand and of the 10,000 asked for by Tunbridge Wells only 6,000 were supplied. These were all sold early in the day, and the helpers at the Committee Room were working hard from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. making poppies of scarlet paper to supply the continuous demand of the seller.” (Kent & Sussex Courier)
“POPPY DAY PROCEEDS.—The organisation for the sale of Flanders poppies on Armistice Day in Dorchester was kindly undertaken by the Mayoress (Mrs. J. M. Underwood), with the assistance of Mrs. Sherry. Though the weather was cold the sellers were about early and long before noon many were sold out. Through the energy of the Mayoress they were soon selling impromptu poppies made from red ribbon, which were just as eagerly bought up. The total amount realised was £35, which, considering the small number of poppies available, constituted an excellent result. …” (Western Gazette)
On 09 January 1922, in New Zealand, the Auckland Star Special Correspondent recounted some human stories from London’s two minute silence at the cenotaph: “The tense moments of silence were broken by one agonising cry, that could not be stilled, of a woman who sobbed on, the barriers of her restraint gone down utterly”.
The scene at a railway station was described: “The big station clock pointed to eleven, but the Flyer*, which prides itself in starting every day to the tick, did not move. On the contrary, a sudden startling hush fell upon the great terminus. The men in the compartment took off their hats. All but one. He kept his on. And grumbled fiercely and noisily at “all this blank nonsense of holding up an important train”. Nobody spoke—for two minutes. Then the silence ended. The guard blew the whistle. The train began to move. Suddenly a couple of hefty countrymen seized the grumbler, and just as the train began to gather speed he found himself out on the platform. And I am assured that he stayed there so far as that train was concerned”. (*?’The Cheltenham Flyer’ train?)
After the event, it was noted that the key role played by women in the distribution of the poppies, had more than justified the need for a British Legion Women’s Section – which had only been formed 01-03 August 1921.
It is believed that Madame Anna Guérin must have imparted her organisational secrets to the British Legion because it followed a similar strategy to hers (N.B. From 1 October 2016, the Women’s Section of the Royal British Legion was absorbed into the organisation as a whole … ceasing to exist as a separate entity from that date).
To the British Legion, their 1921 ‘Poppy Day’ was an unexpected and overwhelming success. One newspaper quote reads “No one could have foreseen how the idea was going to grip the public imagination as it did.” However, perhaps it must be said here that there was one person who knew just how successful it was likely to be … Madame Guérin herself!
The Northampton Mercury looked back to Armistice Day 1921, on 5 November 1937 [sic]: “How many Northampton people who will be wearing a Flanders Poppy on Armistice Day are aware how the movement originated?
It was a French woman, Madame Guerin, who first thought that the poppy would make an appropriate emblem to sell in aid of ex-Servicemen in distress. …
In that year the emblems were made by the children of the war distressed areas of France, and £106, 000 was collected in various parts of the country.
Northampton did not hold a Poppy Day in 1921, but decided to forward a donation of £25 to help Earl Haig in his appeal, making the promise that the following year an organisation would be set up to see that the town and county were supplied with emblems. …”
On Wednesday 11 November 1925, The Liverpool Echo printed this article – rare, for mentioning Madame Guérin in the Poppy Day History [sic]:
“TO-DAY’S BEAUTIFUL OBSERVANCES. HOW THEY WERE BROUGHT INTO BEING; AN ORIGIN WHICH IS LOST IN OBSCURITY.
To-day we all paid tribute to our glorious dead. For two minutes a solemn stillness reigned over the whole kingdom, and the thoughts of all turned to those fields in Flanders where …. the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row.
Then that impressive pause occurred there was a gathering of the noblest of the land in Westminster Abbey, standing with heads reverently bowed, doing honour to the memory of that Unknown Warrior who is for all of us the chosen representative of the thousands who gave their lives fighting by land, and sea, and air.
And inside the Abbey, and everywhere outside, there was on the breast of every man and woman a red poppy.
Each of these beautiful observances—beautiful in their simplicity, their silence and their significance—expressed for us all the thoughts which were too deep for words. We had cause to be grateful to the minds which gave birth to the idea of uniting our common feelings in such dignified and expressive symbolism. But, unfortunately, the authorship of the three ideas is not definitely ascertained. We do not know whom to thank.
It has been claimed that a Margate vicar, the Rev. David Railton, who served as a chaplain of the Forces in war time, and who has buried many a fallen soldier, known and unknown, on the fields of France and Flanders, first conceived the idea of bringing home the body of an unknown warrior and laying it in a national tomb, beneath a slab of Belgian marble, Certainly he did make the suggestion of such a ceremony to the late Dean of Westminster (Dr. Ryle), and certainly he was the donor of the flag of Ypres which rests above the Unknown Warrior’s grave. But it was not on his representation that the authorities acted. The Dean of Westminster had received the same suggestion two months earlier from a woman, whose name has never been officially disclosed.
There are those who ascribe the authorship of the idea to a French infantry man, Mons. Gaston Vidal, who fought in the Great War with the famous Alpine Chasseurs, and subsequently rose to a place in the French Cabinet. He had made the suggestion, “en passant,” in an article in a Parisian newspaper. It was taken up eagerly by the Union of ex-Combatants and the ex-soldiers in the Chamber of Deputies, but for some reason it was allowed to lapse.
It was revived, though, when it became known that a similar proposal had been adopted in England.
But there is an even earlier claim than that, and an English claim, too, Mr. Frank Stevens, of Abingdon, states that in July 1919, months before Vidal’s article was written, he had made the same suggestion in a letter to a London newspaper, whose editor, for some unimaginable reason, decided not to publish the proposal.
In any event the germ of the idea is at least a hundred years old, and has probably an American origin. In the war of 1812 three men lost their lives in doing signal service on the frontier. The State, to do them fitting honour, sent a special commission to bring their bodies to Albany, and laid them in unmarked graves in the grounds of the Capitol. And to-day no man knows where they are buried.
The originator of the Great Silence, too has never declared himself. But it is stated by some that the ceremony arose from a suggestion of Princess Louise, the Queen’s aunt. The proposal reached the ears of the King, by whom it was at once passed on to the Cabinet.
Poppy Day came about through the imaginative enterprise of a Frenchwoman Mme. Guerin, who conceived it principally as a way of giving employment in the manufacture of artificial poppies to the women and children of the devastated areas of France. Mme. Guerin travelled through England, Canada, Australia and the United States to advocate her plan, and it was adopted in all those countries.
There is one feature about the Unknown Warrior’s tomb in which Liverpool has reason to be specially interested. On Armistice Day of 1920—the day when the body of the nameless hero was laid in his grave—a little group of members were discussing the ceremony in the Liverpool Reform Club. One of them repeated a verse from the Old Testament which he thought would make an appropriate inscription for the tomb. His suggestion met with unanimous favour, and he was urged to sent it on to Lord Curzon, the chairman of the Unknown Warrior Committee. This he did, and received in reply a letter telling him his quotation would be considered. A year later the words suggested were graven on the tomb:
“They buried him among the Kings, because he had done good toward God and toward His house.”
It was Mr. J. H. Ziegler, of Noctorum, Birkenhead, to whom this noble epitaph occurred. R. A. M.
On 08 April 1918, The Morning Tulsa Daily World (Oklahoma) enlightened the residents of Tulsa about the “experiences and observations at the great battle front in France” of local Tulsa newspaperman, Glen Condon. The newspaper reviewed a speech given by Glen Condon the previous afternoon. He had left his job to go across to France and Flanders – after he returned to the U.S.A., he gave lectures to benefit the war effort. The following is a transcribed section of the review wherein Glen Condon’s described his time in England:
“… … Severe Food Shortage In England.
“The soldiers are well fed. There is nothing they can want for in that respect. This is especially true of the American soldiers. The real food shortage is in England. I have seen women, with children in their arms, lined up for blocks early in the morning, waiting for the butcher shops to open. Usually the supply ran out before all got their allotments. While in England I could get no butter, no milk, no sugar, no sweets of any kind—the only things they have plenty of are eggs and potatoes, and eggs are 10 cents each. You are given ration cards that contain four coupons for each week. Each coupon entitles you to two ounces of raw meat or three-fourths of an ounce of cooked meat. Many families save a week’s coupons until Saturday and get a small Sunday roast with it—that is all the meat they have in a week. Whether you buy your meat at a butcher shop or eat at a restaurant you must have the coupons. Even tinned meats or sardines can be procured only in this manner.
“America is keeping England from starvation. Formerly England kept France and Italy from starvation. England is doing her best today. Every inch of ground is under cultivation—the government makes it compulsory. They have the girls’ land army, composed mainly of city girls, who never did manual labor in their lives before the war. These girls wear uniforms and receive the pay of a soldier—about 35 cents a day, and they do the work of men in tilling the soil.”
What Women Are Doing.
“Girls and women are all working—the men have all gone to the front. I have seen thousands of girl munition workers in one factory, turning out munitions for the allies, for England and France are capable of supplying ordnance and ammunition to all of the allied forces, including America. Women are handling baggage on the rail-roads, running the clerical work and thousands of other jobs that women never did before the war.
“Then there is the women’s army auxiliary corps in France, which does the cooking, drives the automobiles and so on, many of them working under shell fire, but each one releasing a man for fighting duty in the front lines. There are the nurses , too, including hundreds of American girls, and ambulance drivers, where American college girls are also represented. The women are doing all of these jobs and doing them efficiently.
Style Give Way to War.
“Styles and parties and automobile rides do not concern the women of England and France any more. Their style is either a military uniform or a mourning dress, and when you see hundreds of women pass by and each one in mourning your thoughts intuitively go back to America, with her paint and powder and frills and fineries.
“At night all lights are out—even in London and Paris, and if you go about you must carry a pocket flashlight to find your way—for there must be no signs to guide the German airmen on his mission of death.
About the Air Raids.
“Five air raids in London and one in Paris I went thru. and they were touch more horrible to me than anything I experienced on the actual front. Usually there is twenty minutes warning of an impending raid and everyone must take shelter. The police have designated certain heavy concrete buildings and all the underground railway stations as official shelters. Even soldiers on leave from the front are hurried into these places, for there is danger, not only from the German bombs, but from the falling shrapnel of the anti-aircraft guns.
“For many nights following an air raid you will see the poorer classes of women, with their children, huddled in the underground stations, fear and terror and hate written over their countenances, prepared to spend the night there for fear the Boche will repeat his performance and take the lives of their loved ones while they sleep. No ablebodied man dare go into one of these shelters during a raid—the women would claw his eyes out because he is not at the front doing his bit. The women know they are doing the work of the men at home and there is no excuse for a man under 55 remaining there. So this particular brand of German frightfulness is having the opposite effect from what is intended—it is breeding in the women and children a hate of all things German that will last as long as they live and it is inspiring the fathers and brothers and sons of these defenceless people who are on the front to more determined action than ever before, to the end that the German hordes may be annihilated, wiped from the face of the earth if necessary to secure an honourable and lasting peace for humanity. … …
Allies Superior in Air.
“We now hold the unquestioned superiority of the air on the western front. We have the enemy beaten in individual bravery and initiative. We have him beaten in guns—particularly machine guns, another American invention, and hand grenades; we have him beaten in food supplies, if we can oly get those supplies to England and France in sufficient quantities. The only place wherein Germany holds the upper hand is with her submarines, and that will not last forever.
“In England everyone’s business is war. There is no more ‘business as usual.’ That fallacy has long since been exploded. Nearly four years they have been in it and they have given everything they possess. They have been fighting our battle, and while they are far from down-hearted, far from being ready to quit, as events on the British front in recent days well indicate, yet they are looking toward America for the final contribution that will bring the thing to a close—men, money, ships and food are needed and it is up to America to furnish them. The least we can do is to give our money. If we gave all our income and half our principal we would not be doing as much as those people have done, they are still giving.
How England Floats War Bonds.
“Only a few weeks ago I had an opportunity to observe a war bond campaign in England. Tanks from the front were the banks, and they toured from town to town. I have seen working people lined up all day long in front of these tanks, awaiting their turn to invest their surplus cash in war bonds. The wealthy man or poor man in England who does not own a war bond today is an outcast, ostracized by neighbours and friends. I have seen women with children buy war bonds with money they had eked out of the pittance of an allowance received from the government on account of the “old man” who was at the front. Most of the munition girls invest half their salary in war bonds. Business men have quit worrying about making money. If they have any business left at all they will feel fortunate. … …”
FOOTNOTE 2: The First World War Legacy for Great Britain:
‘The WAR’S BILL to HUMANITY. The Suffering Still Goes On’ by C. A. Lyon. (1938)
In Supplement , ‘The Great War. I Was There. Undying Memories of 1914-1918’, Volume 3’.
Edited by Sir John Hammerton. The Amalgamated Press Ltd., London.
“NOT FORGOTTEN” is a term which we like to use in speaking of the war heroes who are still, many years afterwards, suffering from and incapacitated by their war injuries. But it is impossible for anyone to remember or realize the true extent of war’s tragedy still manifest amongst us in thousands of broken lives. Mr. Lyon’s brief marshalling of a few significant facts provides terrible evidence of the lingering misery inherited by many thousands of war veterans.
Do you know that there are still nearly a million people directly suffering from the war? One Briton in fifty is still a war victim. Here are some thought-compelling figures:
Four hundred and forty-two thousand men are still living so maimed, gassed, nerve-racked, or otherwise ruined in health that they cannot work or can only work with diminished efficiency, and are partly or wholly dependent on the State for money to live.
One hundred and twenty-seven thousand widows still mourn men they last saw in khaki some day in the years between 1914 and 1918.
Two hundred and twenty-four thousand parents and other dependants are still suffering through the loss of sons or relatives who were their breadwinners, and have to be helped financially by the State.
Only detailed figures can give an idea of the suffering that the great war is still causing today in this twentieth year of the peace.
Below are given reliable estimates, made by experts, of the armies of war-injured who still form part of Britain’s population.
These estimates are based on Ministry of Pensions figures, and, if the figures seem surprisingly large, remember that the less seriously injured men living today conceal their wounds as well as they can.
As for the thousands of more seriously injured, they are seldom seen in the streets.
These are 8,000 men with one or both legs amputated and 3,600 with one or both arms amputated, a total of nearly 12,000 men who have lost limbs.
There are 90,000 men with impaired arms and legs not serious enough for, or curable by, amputation.
There are 10,000 men whose eyesight has been injured by poison gas, shrapnel, bombs and shells, and of these 2,000 are blind.
There are 15,000 with head injuries, many of whom still have to wear metal plates to protect them.
There are 11,000 who were deafened by bursting bombs and shells and through other causes.
There are 7,000 who suffer from hernia, for whom many of the active pursuits of life are impossible.
There are 2,200 still suffering from frost-bite contracted in the trenches. Some of them have had limbs amputated.
There are 32,000 more who suffer from various wounds not officially classed.
Those are the figures for wounds. The legacy of disease that persists to this day is more terrible still.
100,000 men are afflicted with diseases too numerous to be separately classified.
41,000 suffer from chest complaints, including bronchitis and tuberculosis, brought on by the war, often as a result of gassing.
38,000 suffer still from heart disease, often brought on by unaccustomed strain and carrying too heavy weights.
28,000 suffer from rheumatism severe enough to convince the not-too-easily convinced Ministry of Pension doctors that they ought to be given disability pensions. We all know there are many more who suffer but get no pension at all.
25,000 are still suffering from nervous disorders or are neurasthenics.
2,800 are epileptics.
3,200, their minds broken by the horrors of war, are still in asylums.
A great army of doctors, nurses, masseurs, artificial limb makers, oculists and hospital staffs still work to make life a little more tolerable for the worst war wounded.
There are 14,000 men whose wounds are still unhealed and who have to get medical and surgical treatment.
I know of one who “celebrated” the twentieth anniversary of the end of the war by having his hand amputated as the result of a wound which has caused him almost constant suffering all these long years.
There are 2,000 “twenty-years-after-men” who are still in-patients in special war victims’ hospitals, besides 1,200 out-patients. Doubtless there are many more in general hospitals.
Each year thousands of pounds’ worth of apparatus and service are still needed by the wounded.
Men come back to hospital year after year to have a little more cut off an amputated leg or arm. Illnesses that have continued on and off for twenty years have to be investigated anew.
Each year 24,000 new surgical appliances, 4,000 new artificial arms and legs, 3,800 new artificial eyes, 25,000 bacteriological and pathological examinations by doctors and scientists are still needed to patch up shattered human bodies.
And this catalogue of physical suffering and misery is not complete without remembering the economic suffering it has brought in its train.
To pay pensions to the maimed and the scarred costs £40,000,000 a year, or £110,000 a day.
One shilling in every pound of our national budget still goes  to keeping the war victims.
The total cost to the country will eventually reach a figure which it is not easy for the ordinary man to imagine — £2,000,000,000.
More than half this astronomical sum has been paid out already, but the suffering will go on for a long time yet.
Now this £2,000,000,000 – which no one grudges and most people would even like to see enlarge – really represents payments to the war victims of wages for work which they or their dead breadwinners would have done had they not been killed or incapacitated.
The £2,000,000,000 “wages” will be paid, but the work will never be done – and we are all poorer as a result.
Yet men talk and dream and plan a still greater war. Truly there is no limit to human folly.”
ABOVE: The Poppy: the enduring remembrance emblem. One of the 888,246 red ceramic poppies from the 2014 ‘Blood Swept Lands And Seas of Red’ art installation at the Tower of London, England – created by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper.
Great Britain’s story continues in CHAPTER 8: THE ALLIED NATIONS SAY “AU REVOIR MADAME GUÉRIN”
See more British poppies in CHAPTER 7d: REMEMBRANCE POPPY TIMELINE FOR GREAT BRITAIN