WHITE POPPY

 
 
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EARLY BEGINNINGS


'The Women's League for the spread of co-operation has begun. All who wish to join should write their name and address to Mrs. Acland, Fyfield Road, Oxford.'

With this small ad in a corner of the Co-operative News of April 13th, 1883 began the Women's Co-operative Guild.

From its beginnings the Guild policy has developed in response to the needs of working class homes. The pressures of economic circumstances on life and home which started the Co-operative movement also influenced the policies of the Guild - co-operation was looked on as a means of alleviating the social hard ships which afflicted workers. The Guild soon realised, however, that a consumer co-operative movement was inadequate to correct what it saw as the evils of a competitive economic community and therefore a call for public actions through governments and local authorities took the place of previous appeals to the Co-operative movement.

In the early part of the century the Guilds women began developing international contacts by travelling abroad (with a lantern show!) and, were, during this period, concerned, with Minimum Wages campaigns, maternity benefits etc. These and other activities 'obscured the threat of war' but in April 1914 at a special International Women's Congress at the Hague of which the Guilds women were a part, a resolution totally opposing war was overwhelmingly passed.

'That this Conference is of opinion that the terrible method of war should never again be used to settle disputes between nations, and urge that a partnership of nations, with peace as its object, should be established and enforced by the people's will.'

This was the beginning of the Guild's active work for peace. After the 1914-1918 war the Guild became more actively concerned with the social, political and economic conditions which give rise to war.

By 1921 the Guild's Congress called for the 'cessation of the provocative competition in armaments... revision of the Peace Treaties... purging politics and education of militarism in all its forms.... abolishing force as a remedy for social unrest.... eliminating private pro fit-making from the industrial system.

 
 


 

 

The dominant feature of the Guild's activities in the 1930's relate to its
involvement with the peace movement.

 
 

 What the Daily Herald'
had to say










 

















 

 In 1923 the Guild '...feels compelled to express, on behalf of the 51,000 working-class mothers who they represent, their keen regret and disappointment at the increase in the Air Force, which is admittedly incapable of being used for defence purposes and whose expansion can only accelerate the race in armaments, which is incompatible with Labour policy of disarmament by mutual consent.'

The Guild's concern for education of the young also grew in this period and found expression in Peace Days in schools. Local Authorities were urged to set aside special day, for celebrations in all schools as Peace Days and in a number of place the idea was adopted and put into practice.

In 1927 'Peace Agendas' were produced for use at the Guild's branch meetings. These included an address on Peace and a Peace Play. The aim was to stress the importance of working for peace in order to ensure that Armistice Day should symbolise the ending of all wars.

The Guild which had spoken out strongly against the First World War and maintained their pacifist principles, and commitment to the peace movement throughout the inter-war years began to feel that a new impetus was needed. In 1933, several branches asked for a symbol to express their opposition to war, and the white poppy for wearing on Armistice Day (now Remembrance day), was born.

he 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 lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers.

The British Legion, who produced the red poppy, was asked to produce the white poppies for the Guild but refused; it also refused the proceeds from sales. In the first year a Guild member, Miss Millar, improvised poppies with white paper and ribbons. In later years the white poppies were produced by the Co-operative Wholesale Society.

It was a radical symbol that required courage to wear and provoked considerable opposition when it first appeared - some even lost their jobs for wearing it. Sales of the white poppy reached their peak in 1938 when the Peace Pledge Union joined with the Guild in promoting it. The dominant feature of the Guild's activities in the 1930's relate to its involvement with the peace movement.

In 1988, the PPU took on the promotion, again asked the British Legion to make the white poppies, but again they refused.

Note
The idea of alternative poppies dates back to 1926, when someone in the No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion should be asked to imprint 'No More War' on their poppies, and failing this pacifists should make their own flowers.

 
         
 

  

 

Peace Pledge Union 1, Peace Passage, London N7 0BT. CONTACT