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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.

1 What do white poppies represent?

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

2 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 mail@ppu.org.uk.

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

4 How many white poppies are sold each year?

The number of White Poppies sold each year varies and has risen steadily in recent years.

For each of the last four years (2014-17), we have distributed around 100,000 poppies per year via individuals as well as shops, schools, colleges, faith groups, local authorities and museums. These figures are higher than, but 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.

5 Where does the money go?

White poppies are more about the message of peace and remembrance than about raising funds. We distribute white poppies to promote remembrance for all victims of war and to challenge the view that war and preparations for war are necessary or inevitable.

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. 

At a national level, money raised over and above the cost of producing, publicising and distributing the poppies goes to fund our education and campaigning work, thus promoting nonviolent approaches to conflict and challenging militarism. Such work regrettably does not attract much funding and so we rely heavily on the generosity of people like you.

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 accurate. 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. 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.

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

White poppies have been worn on Remembrance Day for over 80 years. This is almost as long as red poppies. We wear them on Remembrance Day because they are a symbol of remembrance.

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; this flows naturally from the desire to remember and learn from the past. 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. Remembrance Day, and the preiod running up to it, is therefore the best time to wear them. 

7 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 something is dominant, this does not mean it is "not political" and beyond criticism. The debate should not be about whether a symbol is political (everything is political) but about the values it represents.

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.