By Alisha Chapman, The Royal British Legion
Whilst most people are aware of The Royal British Legion, fewer know the fascinating stories that make up our history and shape what we do today. As a charity, we are often asked what the significance of the poppy is to Remembrance and how the Two Minute Silence came to be.
The poppy has been the national symbol of Remembrance in the UK since the Legion was founded in 1921. History tells us that some of the bloodiest fighting of World War One took place in the Flanders and Picardy regions of Belgium and Northern France. The poppy was the only thing which grew in the aftermath of the complete devastation.
An American teacher inspired by the poem In Flanders’ Fields written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, bought poppies with money collected from her work colleagues and sold them to raise funds for U.S. ex servicemen.
In the United Kingdom, the poppy was used in the first ever Poppy Appeal on 11th November 1921.
The Royal British Legion now makes 44 million poppies every year for the annual Poppy Appeal out of a single factory in Richmond, Surrey.
The Poppy Factory was founded in 1922 by Major George Howson MC with a grant of £2,000 and the aim of providing employment for five disabled ex-servicemen. This year, we hope to raise £36 million from the distribution of poppies, an achievement that we’re sure Major Howson could never have imagined.
The original poppy was designed so that disabled workers could easily assemble it and this principle remains today. Many former servicemen and women and their disabled dependents still work at the factory and play an important part in turning rolls of red paper into 44 million Remembrance poppies.
Each year, The Royal British Legion organises three major Remembrance activities; the Two Minute Silence, Festival of Remembrance and the Cenotaph March Past on Remembrance Sunday.
The history of the Two Minute Silence can be traced back to an Australian journalist who suggested the idea of a five minute silence. King George V deemed this too long, so on 7th November 1919 he issued a proclamation asking that
“at the hour when the Armistice comes 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 our normal activities… so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”
Every year, The Royal British Legion honours this Royal proclamation by holding a Silence in the Square event in Trafalgar Square in London and Castle Square in Swansea.
Members of the public who wish to stand with The Royal British Legion in remembering the human cost of conflict can attend Silence in the Square, visit the Cenotaph in Whitehall or watch the Remembrance Sunday March Past.
In addition to this important role as the national custodians of Remembrance, The Royal British Legion also provides a wide range of welfare services. In fact, we spend a staggering £1.4 million a week on our welfare services and all the money raised from this year’s Poppy Appeal will directly support the Afghan generation of the Armed Forces family, as well as veterans of past conflicts and their dependents.
Here at The Royal British Legion, we are looking forward to the completion of the new Battle Back Challenge Centre in the summer of 2012. This state of the art facility will radically improve rehabilitation services for injured service personnel, particularly those from Afghanistan.
Built, equipped and operated by The Royal British Legion, it will provide a centre of excellence for adaptive sport and adventure training in a military environment. We are also providing for the operation of four Personnel Recovery Centres, and have committed at least £25 million for these two projects.
This project is something we are most proud of as it will mark a significant improvement in the care and opportunities available to injured Service personnel and is testament to the fact that the Legion is not only there for veterans, but for all service personnel and their families today and for the rest of their lives.
For more information or to donate to the Poppy Appeal visit our website, or read more about the poppy factory in this month’s Soldier magazine.
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