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The White Poppy

White poppies are worn in the run-up to Remembrance Day every year by thousands of people across the UK and beyond. They have been worn in this way since 1933.

The white poppy stands for remembrance of all victims of war, challenging militarism and a commitment to peace. Read on to find out more about these three key messages.

Remembering all victims of war

White poppies stand for remembrance of all victims of all wars. This includes wars still being fought. It includes people of all nationalities. It includes both civilians and members of armed forces.

In wearing white poppies, we remember all those killed in war, all those wounded in body or mind, the millions who have been made sick or homeless by war and the families and communities torn apart. We also remember those killed or imprisoned for refusing to fight and for resisting war.

We differ from the Royal British Legion, who distribute red poppies. The Legion has traditionally said that red poppies are to remember only British armed forces and those who fought alongside them. In 2019 they shifted their position to say that they "acknowledge" civilian victims of war, but did not extend their remembrance to all nationalities. 

A recent poll shows that 83% of UK adults believe victims of war of all nationalities should be included in remembrance, whilst 86% believe civilians should be included.

We want to remember British military dead, but they are not the only victims of war. We also remember the many civilians who have died or suffered in war, both in the past and today, in Ukraine, Yemen and many other places around the world. Suffering does not stop at national borders, and nor should remembrance.

Standing up for peace

White poppies symbolise a commitment to peace and to finding non-violent solutions to conflicts. In this way they reassert the original message of remembrance, 'never again'.

Through economic reliance on arms sales, sky rocketing military spending, investment in nuclear weapons and support for ongoing wars, the UK government contributes significantly to war and militarism around the world. The outcome of recent military adventures highlights their ineffectiveness and devastating consequences.

85% of UK adults believe that Remembrance Sunday 'should primarily have a message of peace'.

The best way to respect the victims of war is to work to prevent war in the present and future. We need to tackle the underlying causes of warfare, such as poverty, inequality and competition over resources. A temporary absence of violence is not enough. Peace is much deeper and broader than that, requiring major social changes to allow us to live more co-operatively.

Challenging militarism

The white poppy challenges attempts to glorify or celebrate war. It encourages us to stand up for peace and resist the causes of war and militarism today.

Many of the activities around Remembrance Day are detached from any meaningful attempt to learn the lessons of war. Politicians who plough billions into weapons lay wreaths at the cenotaph. Remembrance events are framed by military language and values. Nationalist narratives, which focus only on military victims on one side, ignore the wider consequences of war.

White poppies challenge the promotion of military values at remembrance time. By drawing attention to the human cost of war, they highlight the urgency of our struggle for peace. They remind us that resistance to war and militarism must continue the year round.

You can find out more about what the PPU is doing to resist militarism on our Everyday Militarism page.