Who, What, Why: Which countries wear poppies?

Poppy Day in Colombo, Sri Lanka The poppy plays a big part in Sri Lankan ceremonies

England footballers will now be allowed to wear poppies when playing Spain at the weekend, says world football's governing body, Fifa. So what countries wear poppies to respect the war dead?

Premier League footballers were sporting poppies stitched on to their shirts while playing last weekend, but the gesture appeared to be ruled out for England's friendly against Spain at Wembley on Saturday, the day before Remembrance Sunday.

A Fifa edict last week said wearing poppies would break the rules about displaying political symbols - however, the ruling was reversed on Wednesday, after Prince William and Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to complain.

The practice of wearing a poppy at this time of year is not solely a British one. Indeed, the adoption of the poppy had a very international birth.

In November 1918, a poem by Canadian military doctor John McCrae inspired American humanitarian Moina Michael to wear and distribute poppies in honour of fallen soldiers.

The answer

  • UK
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • In total, 120 countries outside the UK are sent 3m poppies by Royal British Legion, mostly expats
  • They include Spain, France, Germany, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Cyprus and Argentina

In Flanders Fields describes the first sign of life after death - small red plants that grew on the graves of soldiers buried in northern France and Belgium during World War I.

Two days before the armistice agreement was signed, Ms Michael bought and then pinned a red poppy to her coat. She gave other poppies out to ex-servicemen at the YMCA headquarters in New York where she worked.

The poppy was officially adopted by the American Legion at a conference two years later. At the same conference, a French woman named Madame E Guerin saw an opportunity for orphans and widows to raise money in France by selling the poppies.

Since then, they have become an international symbol of remembering fallen soldiers, especially in Commonwealth countries.

Why the poppy?

Field of poppies
  • Scarlet corn poppies grow naturally in disturbed earth throughout Western Europe
  • Only plant that grew in battle-scarred fields of Northern France and Flanders during WWI
  • Canadian doctor John McCrae wrote In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row... in memory of fallen comrades
  • It inspired American secretary Moina Michael to sell poppies to raise funds for ex-soldiers
  • Poppy became US national emblem of remembrance in 1920, and 1921 in the UK

The Royal British Legion, which adopted the poppy in 1921, distributed 45 million in 2010 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This year, it hopes to raise £40m ($64m) in donations, which will be used to assist retired or injured soldiers.

Three million poppies are sent to 120 countries outside the UK, says Nick Buckley, head of the legion's Poppy Appeal.

These are mostly for British expats living in countries such as Spain, Germany and France, he says. But the poppies, which are made in a factory in London and sent to British embassies in countries as varied as Argentina, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka, are sometimes used by the local community as well.

In Scotland, about five million poppies are distributed each year by Poppyscotland, but they look slightly different. Unlike the standard two petals and a single green leaf, the Scottish ones have four petals and no leaf.

The Scottish poppy pin "is botanically correct", says Leigh James, spokeswoman for Poppyscotland. There's also a financial reason for the difference - adding a leaf would cost an extra £15,000 ($24,000) a year.

South Africa has seen a recent boom in the popularity of poppies, says Mariette Venter, national secretary at the South Africa Legion. "The poppy pin is now taking root here," she says.

Australian rugby player Australia's rugby team have worn poppies

After a recent visit from Prince Charles, who wore a poppy on his lapel, the legion saw a spike in phone calls from people asking where they could get one. The legion in South Africa had 300,000 poppies shipped from England's poppy factory this year, along with 50 wreaths.

Ms Venter says she also sent 200 poppies to Malawi for use in ceremonies there.

Canada is distributing 18 million poppies for Remembrance Day this year, says Bob Butt of the Royal Canadian Legion. Canadian poppies, which are made in Toronto, have four petals with a black centre and no leaf - like Scotland's.

In New Zealand, Poppy Day usually falls on the Friday before Anzac Day, which is commemorated on 25 April.


Question mark

A part of BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer questions behind the headlines

The reason is a historical one - the ship carrying the poppies from France for the first Poppy Day in 1921 came too late for them to be used in November's Armistice Day.

In the same year, Australia bought one million poppies from French orphans. Nowadays, they are made locally and are laid next to names on the Roll of Honour.

In the US, the country where the first poppies were worn in this way, the sight of them has diminished around the armistice anniversary.

The 11th day of November is known as Veterans Day, when a more common adornment on the lapel is a red, white and blue ribbon. But there are some poppies laid and worn for Memorial Day in May, in parts of the US.

The poppy has been a divisive issue in Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland, where it is regarded by many Republicans as a mark of loyalty to the British Crown.

One of the blackest days in the Troubles saw the IRA bombing a Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen, when 11 people were killed and more than 60 injured.

In France, the blue cornflower, "le bleuet" is also worn, but not as widely as the poppy in the UK.

A selection of your comments appears below:

In Ghana I was sold a poppy outside the airport by an elderly local woman who made sure she explained the reasons for wearing it (in remembrance of the Ghanaians who gave their life in the war).

Mick Myers, Portsmouth, UK

Poppies are not only worn by expats in Malta, Maltese people have there own Poppy Day.

Pauline James, Qawra, Malta

I live outside UK and I wear a poppy, even though I'm neither British, nor a citizen of Commonwealth. I think it's a great tradition that should be propagated in other countries as well. There are many fallen soldiers, and their families and graves everywhere, that need support and attention.

Vaidas, Vilnius, Lithuania

I can remember when we were going to school, we used to buy poppies when the cerebrations are near. All school going children will display them on their uniforms as well as uniformed service men and women.

Muhtarr Kah, The Gambia

Although most people just stare in wonder, some of the Kuwaiti population does wear poppies. As a student at an English school, I'm used to poppies: all members of staff and many of our students wear poppies in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day.

Mohammad Abdullah, Kuwait

Here in Georgia, the poppy has recently become adopted as a symbol to commemorate the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. The practice is more common among government supporters, and is as much a symbol of defiance against what is seen here as continuing Russian occupation than remembrance for the fallen.

William, Tbilisi, Georgia

I bought my poppy at a British pub in central Tokyo.

James Midgley, Tokyo, Japan

The Remembrance service in Ubon was started by a group of local expats and was originally very small, with a handful of expats and their Thai wives. The local government noticed, and now supports the occasion by providing marquees, seating and government representatives.

Mike Chapman, Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

A lot of the expat population here in south-west Turkey also wear their poppies with pride.

Alan Askin, Fethiye, Turkey

It's an absolute disgrace not to the mention countries in the West Indies, whose sons and daughters sacrificed their lives of God and country. Countries like Jamaica, and host of other Caribbean Islands do celebrate Remembrance Day. Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are not the only countries in the Commonwealth that wear poppies or support poppy appeal.

Damian Harris, Kingston, Jamaica

During the Armed Forces Day, Nigerian government officials and military officers wear poppies.

Emeka Ulor, Lagos, Nigeria

I work in the Central Bank of Sierra Leone, and there is hardly an employee without a poppy! A surprising number of the people in this warm and vibrant ex-British Colony know their significance and wear them with the greatest of pride.

Katie Parry, Freetown, Sierra Leone

As a British overseas territory, the Poppy Appeal is well supported by the population, both local and expat. The Veterans Association is active and there is a Remembrance Day parade during which wreaths are laid.

Derek Haines, Grand Cayman

We're wearing poppies here in Brunei.

Jason Reid, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Widely on sale here in Fiji. It is worn by TV newsreaders, as in the UK and other countries. The smaller Commonwealth countries are proud of their history and continue to make a massive contribution to the British army.

Christine, Suva, Fiji

We have a lot of Dutch expats over here. They brought the tradition over here. We have a parade and we lay wreaths and wear poppies with pride for our fallen comrades.

Balthazar Quinn, Willemstad, Curacao

I have known and worn the poppy since my primary school days in the 80s and 90s. We also celebrate each year our fallen heroes from the two World Wars in ceremonies on Remembrance Day across the country.

Max Chilembwe, Zomba, Malawi

I buy a poppy every year. In Barbados, we honour our fallen in the two World Wars.

Sidney Skinner, St Michael, Barbados

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