Inside the Collection

Poppies, symbols of remembrance for World War I

Photograph of colourful poppies
Colour transparency, poppy flower photograph, Kodak EPP 6005 6 x 7cm medium format colour film,photograph by Bruno Benini, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1980-1995.2009/43/1-5/21/23 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The Red Poppy has special significance for Australians. Worn on Remembrance Day (formerly know as Armistice Day), on November 11 each year, the red poppies were among the first to flower in the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium in the First World War. The vivid red of the poppy symbolises the blood of fallen soldiers.

Photograph of Australian "Lest We Forget" poppy badge
Badge, Australia, 1940-1955, poppy, paper, maker unknown. Red poppy with white tag, `United Returned Soldiers Fund 1950 Lest We Forget Poppy’.Collection: Powerhouse Museum

In England in 1919, the British Legion sought an emblem that would honour the dead and help the living. The Red Poppy was adopted as that emblem and since then has been accepted as the Emblem of Remembrance.

The League adopted the idea in 1921, announcing:

“The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia and other Returned Soldiers Organisations throughout the British Empire and Allied Countries have passed resolutions at their international conventions to recognise the Poppy of Flanders’ Fields as the international memorial flower to be worn on the anniversary of Armistice Day.”1

Since the 1920’s The United Returned Soldier’s Fund through its Poppy Day (November) and ANZAC Day (April) appeals has been raising funds to provide welfare assistance for the veteran community and current serving members of the Australian Defence Force. The Returned Servicemen League (RSL) sells millions of red cloth poppies with proceeds going towards raising funds for welfare work.

From 2014 through to 2018 , the world will be commemorating the 100 years since millions of soldiers lived, died, and fought in the First World War.

Australian cultural institutions like the Powerhouse will use their unique collections to tell stories about the impact of the war on the lives of Australian both abroad and at home.

Written by Anni Turnbull, curator, design and society

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