In 1926, a few years after the introduction of the red poppy in the UK, the idea of pacifists making their own poppies was put forward by a member of the No More War Movement (as well as the proposal that the black centre of the British Legion's red poppies should be imprinted with "No More War"). Their intention was to remember casualties of all wars, with the added meaning of a hope for the end of all wars; the red poppy signified only the British military dead. However, they did not pursue the idea. The first white poppies were sold by the Co-operative Women's Guild in 1933. The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) took part in their distribution from 1936, and white poppy wreaths were laid from 1937 as a pledge to peace that war must not happen again. Anti-war organisations such as the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship now support the White Poppy Movement.
Those who promote the wearing of white poppies argue that the red poppy also conveys a specific political standpoint, and point to the divisive nature of the red poppy in Northern Ireland, where it is worn mainly by unionists but boycotted by Irish republicans.
Sales of white poppies steadily rose throughout the 2010s, often causing supporters of the PPU to become targets of abuse. On 1 November 2018 sales of white poppies were higher than in any previous year since white poppies were founded in 1933. As of 7 November 2018, 119,555 white poppies had been sold. The final figure was 122,385. The previous record was 110,000 white poppies in 2015. Until 2014, the record was around 80,000 in 1938.
Children's author Michael Morpurgo described his decision to wear a white poppy alongside his red one in a Radio Times article:
- "Wearing the red poppy for me is not simply a ritual, not worn as a politically correct nod towards public expectation. It is in honour of them, in respect and in gratitude for all they did for us. But I wear a white poppy alongside my red one, because I know they fought and so many died for my peace, our peace. And I wear both side by side because I believe the nature of remembrance is changing, and will change, as the decades pass since those two world wars."
In New Zealand, a White Poppy Annual Appeal has been run since 2009 by Peace Movement Aotearoa in the week preceding Anzac Day, with all proceeds going to White Poppy Peace Scholarships. The appeal was controversial for some, with Veterans' Affairs Minister Judith Collins describing the white poppy appeal as "incredibly disrespectful to those who served their country".
White poppies have also been worn in New Zealand to mark Remembrance Day. In previous years, the annual white poppy appeal was run as a fundraiser for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament around the time of Hiroshima Day in August. Responsibility for organising the annual appeal was transferred to Peace Movement Aotearoa, as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in New Zealand closed down in 2008.
The Royal British Legion has no official opinion on the wearing of white poppies, stating that it "is a matter of choice, the Legion doesn't have a problem whether you wear a red one or a white one, both or none at all". Opponents of the white poppy argue that the traditional red poppy already encompasses the sentiments claimed for the white poppy, such as "remembering all victims of war", and consider that it undermines the message of remembrance. Some groups such as Northern Irish nationalists though still see the red poppy as primarily remembering the British dead and not those who were victims in wars against the British, hence the belief that the red poppy is a political symbol. In the 1930s, when the white poppy was first established, some women lost their jobs for wearing them. Others are concerned that the money raised by the white poppy appeal may affect the funds raised for the Royal British Legion by the red poppy appeal.
In 1986, John Baker, Bishop of Salisbury, stated in his diocesan newsletter that he had been asked about the appropriateness of the white poppy. Baker responded "let's not be hurt if we see a white poppy...there is plenty of space for red and white to bloom side by side." Salisbury MP Robert Key disagreed, and later that year asked British prime minister Margaret Thatcher her opinion on the issue. Thatcher expressed her "deep distaste" for the symbol during prime minister's questions. In response, the White Poppy campaign received much media coverage in Britain. The Daily Star ran several articles criticising the White Poppy campaign. In The Guardian, artist Steve Bell published a cartoon satirising Thatcher's opposition to white poppies, which he allowed the Peace Pledge Union to republish.
In November 2014, white poppy wreaths on the Aberystwyth War Memorial had to be replaced after they were removed from the Memorial and thrown in a bin. In 2018 there were widespread reports of white poppy wreaths being removed from war memorials. St John Ambulance in England allowed its volunteers to wear white poppies for the first time. Johnny Mercer MP said that white poppies were "attention seeking rubbish". The Royal British Legion said that it defends the right to wear different poppies.
- Usborne, Simon (4 November 2016). "The great 'poppy war': how did we get here?". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
- Basu, Srabosti (10 November 2017). "The Argument for the White Poppy". Affinity Magazine. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- "White Poppies for Peace". ppu.org.uk. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
- Iggulden, Amy. "British Legion reaches a truce with the white poppy movement". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
- "The Big Question: Why are we asked to wear a poppy, and is its". The Independent. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
- John Montgomery, quoted in the Irish News, 10 November 1986, p.1
- "White poppy sales hit new record ahead of Armistice centenary – Co-operative News". 9 November 2018.
- "White poppy sales break all records | Peace Pledge Union".
- Ross, Tim (31 December 2012). "Remembrance Day poppies should be white". Archived from the original on 1 January 2013.
- Zephaniah, Professor Benjamin (30 October 2012). "(a poem with white poppy)". www.ppu.org.uk.
Rise above the wars / The folly of endless fight, / Let's try making love, / Let's make our poppies white.
- "The White Poppy for Peace Campaign". Facebook. 10 November 2018.
Hip Hop artist Lowkey is wearing a white poppy
- "Michael Morpurgo: Why I'll be wearing two poppies this Remembrance Day".
- 2009 White Poppy Annual Appeal on scoop.co.nz. Retrieved 25 April 2009
- Hank Schouten and Paul Easton (21 April 2010). "Rival poppy campaign angers veterans". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
- Brown, Jonathan (11 November 2006). "Red, white, or none at all? The great poppy debate". The Independent on Sunday. Retrieved 9 November 2008.
- Walters, Kendall (9 November 2012). "Legion sees red over white poppy campaign". Canoe. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
- Breen, Paul (2016). 'Poppies are a political symbol.' https://theconversation.com/poppies-are-a-political-symbol-both-on-and-off-the-football-pitch-68113
- "Why the Poppy?". Ninety Years of Remembrance. BBC. 2008. Retrieved 9 November 2008.
- Wainwright, Martin (7 November 1986). "White poppies reopen old wounds / Disarmament divisions affect preparations for Remembrance Day". The Guardian (London). p. 6.
- Hetherington, William (2009). Swimming Against the Tide: The Peace Pledge Union Story. London: The Peace Pledge Union. pp. 48–49. ISBN 978-0-902680-51-7.
- Hetherington, Bill (2006). "Symbols of Peace". Housmans Peace Diary 2007 (54th ed.). London: Housmans Bookshop.
- Melville-Smith, Alicia (17 November 2014). "Peace campaigners outraged after white poppy wreaths torn down from Aberystwyth War Memorial". Wales Online. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
- "White poppy wreath 'pinched' from Bath War Memorial within a day of Remembrance Sunday celebrations". Somerset live. 14 November 2018. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
- "White 'pacifist' poppies allowed by St John Ambulance for first time in its history". The Independent. 15 October 2018. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
- Correspondent, Robert Booth Social Affairs (15 October 2018). "St John Ambulance to let volunteers wear white remembrance poppy". The Guardian.
- "White poppy: How is it different from the red remembrance symbol?". BBC News. 25 October 2018. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
- White Poppies for Peace – official homepage of the PPU's White Poppy project
- White poppy wreath-laying at Canada's War Memorial, Ottawa, Ontario, on Nov. 11, 2008
- A motion on White poppies before the Scottish Parliament (S2M-1865 Mark Ballard: White Poppies for Peace, Monday 25 October 2004)
- White Poppies for Peace – website in New Zealand
- whitepoppy.ca – a sub-page of "Remembrance Day For All" – Towards discussion that includes everyone in our Remembrance of Canada’s wars.
- BBC: Red poppy 'less Christian' claim
- Ekklesia: Father of dead Canadian soldier supports White Poppy
- Ekklesia: Newspaper and former defence secretary back freedom to choose red or white poppy