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Posted by on Mar 9, 2009 in Our Work

White Poppy Campaign

White Poppy Campaign

Some History of the White Poppy

The white poppy and the red poppy owe at least part of their inspiration to the same source: John McCrae’s May, 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields.” McCrae, a medic, wrote this poem as a lament as he grieved the death of a friend, Alex Helmer, who had been blasted to bits by a shell. He later told the chaplain of the unit what he meant when he wrote that critical line: “Take up our quarrel with the foe; To you from failing hands we throw the torch…” By foe, he meant war itself, and by torchhe meant the passion and will to realize the ideal of putting an end to war itself.

Enter the Women’s Cooperative Guild. This 19th. Century women’s organization was among many groups that spoke out trying to prevent war from happening in 1914. When the forerunner of the British Legion began making and distributing red poppies after the war ended, the guild asked them to include in the centre the words: No more War. It was when this suggestion was turned down that the guild chose to begin making white poppies.

After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Women’s Cooperative Guild began distributing the white poppy. In 1936, a new coalition called The Peace Pledge Union, took on wearing the white poppy as “a definitive pledge to peace, and that war must not happen again.” In 1938, 85,000 white poppies were worn at an alternative Remembrance Day service held in London’s Regent’s Park, after which the poppies were laid at the Cenotaph.

Back in 1933, the Women’s Co-operative Guild in England chose to wear white poppies to symbolize their commitment to work for peace and end their acquiescence to militarism. The Guild stressed that the white poppy was in no way intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War, but that it was a ‘pledge to peace that war must not happen again’. Indeed, many of the women had lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers.

This tradition has now been adopted in many other communities. Many people are choosing to wear red poppies to remember veterans and white poppies to remember civilian casualties.

Both symbols serve to renew their commitment to work for peace and remember the true costs and causes of war.

Gfmr09 (1.2 KiB)

(White Poppy Resolution passed at the Canadian Voice of Women’s 50th Anniversary AGM)

Conscience Canada Statement On The White Poppy (139.3 KiB)

Resources - Elementary Teachers (108.2 KiB)

Listen to VOW member Heather Menzies speaking about the White Poppy Campaign on the CBC’s The Current, Friday, November 9, 2012.  Heather is introduced at 17:30 minutes into the program (click on the link)

White Poppy Action in Toronto at VOW Conference and AGM, November 9, 2012
from left to right Joan Russow, Tiffany Goskey, Sandy Greenberg, Hannah Hanikin, Sandra Ruch, Michele Brennen, Eryl Court

White Poppy Campaign – Love in Action (click on the video to watch)

Remembrance Day Education kit / L’éducation à la paix et le Jour du souvenir

Never Again: Peace Education and Remembrance Day

This peace education kit is designed to help educators promote peace as a goal and critical thinking as an approach, especially as concerns Remembrance Day commemorations.

For some people, Remembrance Day evokes quite conflicted feelings. On the one hand, we think it is important to remember the fact of war and how horrible it is. On the other, we want to do our utmost to prevent and end war and militarism, so we are uncomfortable with some of the assumptions often promoted in mainstream discourse. For instance, to what degree is it really true that we owe our freedoms to people dying and killing for us? To what degree is fighting in war “heroic”? Are there alternative, nonviolent ways to uphold the values we hold dear?

The lesson plans and resources in this kit will hopefully help you think of appropriate ways to promote nonviolence and respect for alternative ways of looking at war and militarism. You may wish to focus on the central symbol of Remembrance Day, the poppy. It is fascinating to learn that there is a white “peace” poppy tradition that is almost as old as the conventional red poppy tradition. In the early 1920′s both the British and Canadian legions (then called the Great War Veterans’ Association of Canada in this country) began to promote the wearing of red poppies as a symbol of remembrance and as a fundraising tool. Interestingly, there is strong evidence that the Canadian author of the poem which inspired the red poppy tradition, John McCrae, intended for his poem to be read as an anti-war poem, not as a plea for those soldiers still alive to continue the attack against the “enemy”. However, mainstream interpretation of the poem and indeed much of the discourse around Remembrance Day has contributed to the unquestioning acceptance of war as inevitable and even of glorifying contributions to war by the soldiers of the country where the poppies are being distributed.

In Britain, the No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion ought to print “No More War” in the centre of the poppies, instead of “Haig Fund”. When this suggestion failed to be adopted, some people decided to go ahead and make their own flowers.

In 1933 the Co-operative Women’s Guild started producing white poppies. The Guild stressed that the white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in war. Indeed, many of the women had lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers in the First World War. The following year the newly founded Peace Pledge Union joined with the Guild in distributing white poppies and later took over producing and promoting them.

In Canada, many of the peace activists who have adopted the white poppy tradition are uncomfortable with the conventional Remembrance Day focus on remembering only “our” soldiers. They feel it is important to remember others who suffer in war, especially now, when most casualties are civilians. Also, they want to remind themselves and everyone that there are alternatives to war! Supposedly, soldiers fight to protect people and fundamental rights. It is important to realize that even in cases of extreme human rights violations, such as the Holocaust of WW II, or other genocides, there were people whose commitment to humanitarian values gave them the courage to resist genocide, not with guns, but with acts of nonviolent resistance. Sometimes these people were successful in saving lives. Arguably, these acts of nonviolence always succeed in uplifting the human spirit, in helping humanity as a whole evolve towards a way of living where war and militarism would have no legitimacy.

Especially in recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis from government especially, on Canada’s tradition as a “courageous warrior”. However, Canada also has a long tradition of courageous resistance to war and militarism, of welcoming pacifist groups who were fleeing persecution in other countries and of respect for those who were conscientious objectors to war.

With time, we hope to expand this kit to include more information about this aspect of Canada’s history. In the meantime, we hope you will find this kit useful and inspirational… and maybe you will be inspired to contribute something yourself to future versions of the kit. You can send your contributions to <> or to <> or call Jan at (250) 537-5251 for more information.

How to make your own white poppy


For information on how to make your own white poppies or order manufactured ones, as well as how to print business-card sized leaflets, go to: . (The manufactured ones are quite beautiful, but there are many reasons to prefer the option many Canadians use – making their own. You can order limited numbers of sample home-made poppies and get ideas for making your own through <>. )

  • Article by Richard J. Doyle, former editor of the Globe and Mail: “In Flanders Fields -poem of poppies and peace”
  • Red & White Poppies – exploring the controversy over different symbols and their significance
  • White Poppy brochure – This brochure goes with with “Red & White Poppies” lesson plan but, for technical reasons, could not be inserted in that file.
  • Poetry, Song and Remembrance – a collection of poems and songs which fit with the theme of Remembrance Day and peace (AVEC QUELQUES CHANSONS EN FRANÇAIS)
  • Remembrance Day Ceremony – how to prepare an assembly which focuses on peace, not as an absence of war and violence, but as a way of life that makes war and violence obsolete
  • War Is a Disaster – lesson plan incorporating math skills, conveys the ideas that war is a disaster (not a game or heroic adventure), a PREVENTABLE disaster
  • Objection de conscience – exploration de l’objection de conscience, avec la chanson Le déserteur de Boris Vian et un texte racontant l’expérience d’un objecteur de conscience en France
  • Six principes pour une culture de la paix – pour explorer les “6 principes” de l’UNESCO par l’intermédiaire des arts plastiques et les arts du langage
  • Texte sur les coquelicots blancs

Other lesson ideas, including an English version of the lesson featuring UNESCO’s 6 principles for a culture of peace, are available from <>.


You can also find more resources on the Global Campaign for Peace Education’s website on their “Resources” page at: Global Campaign for Peace Education Resources Page