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White poppies: Frequently asked questions

White poppies: Frequently asked questions

A number of questions about White Poppies come up again and again. Here are our answers.

What do white poppies represent?

There are thee elements to the meaning of the white poppy: they represent remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace and a challenge to attempts to glamorise or celebrate war.

Where can I buy a white poppy?

You can buy them from us online. There are also a number of shops, cafes, faith groups and other outlets that sell white poppies. If you would like to sell them in your area, we would be pleased to hear from you. You can reach us at shop@ppu.org.uk.

Are white poppies a recent invention? 

No. White poppies were first produced in 1933 by the Co-operative Women's Guild, made up largely of women who had lost husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and friends in World War One. They were worried by the growing militarisation of Remembrance events and the detachment between the red poppy and the need to work for peace. The Guild's General Secretary, Eleanor Barton, called for renewed commitment "to that 'Never Again' sprit that was strong in 1918, but seems to grow weaker as years go on". 

Today, white poppies are distributed by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU).

How many white poppies are sold each year?

The number of white poppies sold each year varies and has risen steadily in recent years. In 2015, the number of white poppies sold passed the 100,000 mark for the first time.

In 2018, we sold 122,385 white poppies: more than any year since white poppies were first worn in 1933. White poppies are distributed via individuals as well as shops, schools, colleges, workplaces, faith groups, trade union branches and museums. We are of course concerned with the message behind the white poppy and not only the sales figures.

We receive orders for white poppies from around the world. Outside of the UK, white poppies are sold most commonly in Canada, New Zealand and Belgium.

Where does the money go?

Any profits from white poppy sales go towards promoting peaceful alternatives to war, campaigning against militarism and our peace education work.

The reality is that far fewer white poppies are currently sold than red poppies, so any profits they make are relatively small. White poppies are more about the message of peace and remembrance than about raising funds.

At a local level, peace groups, shops and other outlets that sell white poppies may choose to donate money raised to a charity or campaign supporting victims of war. This is not controlled centrally and a number of charities benefit. Local outlets are expected not to use any money made for personal gain. 

Some argue that if you buy a white poppy you are taking away money that would go to support wounded veterans if you bought a red poppy instead. This is not true There is nothing to stop someone wearing a white poppy while also donating to a charity to help those wounded in war. Many white poppies wearers make donations to such charities. When white poppies were launched in the 1930s by the Women's Co-operative Guild, their General Secretary Eleanor Barton insisted that, "The Guild was most anxious that nothing should be done that would prejudice the help given to disabled soldiers." However, the British Legion refused the Guild's request to produce white poppies or to print "No More War" at the centre of red poppies.

We want to see decent support for people affected by war. We believe, however, that such people should be able to turn to a well-funded welfare state rather than having to rely on charity. The UK government has been slashing the welfare state in recent years while maintaining the seventh highest military budget in the world.

Why do you wear white poppies on Remembrance Day rather than at a different time of year?

Because they are a symbol of remembrance. White poppies have been worn on Remembrance Day for over 85 years, for almost as long as red poppies.

We are sometimes criticised by people who say that we should wear white poppies at a different time of year. These comments are often based on misunderstanding: it is sometimes mistakenly assumed that white poppies are a generic peace symbol. This is inaccurate. They are a symbol of remembrance for victims of war, both civilians and combatants, of all nationalities. They also represent a commitment to peace and a rejection of miltiarism. Some people who wear white poppies wear other symbols of peace at other times of the year, but white poppies are specifically a remembrance symbol.

Is the white poppy a political symbol?

Both the white poppy and the red poppy represent distinct values and perspectives. In this sense they are both political symbols.

It is sometimes inaccurately stated that the white poppy is political and the red poppy is not. In reality, they are as political as each other. For example, choosing to remember only UK and allied miltary personnel is just as political as choosing to remember all victims of war. The British Legion state that red poppies show "support for the armed forces". Whether or not you agree with this position, it is clearly a political position, just as making a commitment to peace is political. If one approach is dominant, this does not mean it is apolitical and beyond criticism.

People who wear white poppies hold a variety of views and opinions and disagree with each other on many subjects. What they share is a desire to remember all the victims of war, to challenge militarism and to stand up for peace.