The first Poppy Day
New Zealand was one of these countries. One of Guérin’s representatives, Colonel Alfred Moffatt, suggested the idea to the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association (as the Returned Services’ Association or RSA was then known) in September 1921. The RSA placed an order for 350,000 small and 16,000 large silk poppies, all to be made by Madame Guérin’s French Children’s League.
The RSA planned to hold its first Poppy Day appeal just before Armistice Day 1921, as other countries were doing. When the ship carrying the poppies from France arrived too late for the scheme to be properly publicised, the association decided to wait until Anzac Day 1922.
The poppies went on sale the day before Anzac Day. This first Poppy Day appeal was a huge success. Many centres sold out early in the day. In all, 245,059 small and 15,157 large poppies were sold. Of the £13,166 (equivalent to more than $1.3 million in 2019) raised, £3695 ($372,000) went to the French Children’s League to help relieve suffering in war-ravaged northern France. The association used the balance to assist needy, unemployed returned soldiers and their families; that tradition has continued.
The popularity of Poppy Day quickly grew. There were record collections during the Second World War. In 1945, 750,000 poppies were distributed nationwide – nearly half the population sported the familiar red symbol of remembrance.
In New Zealand the poppy is worn most often around Anzac Day. Since 1927 Poppy Day has been the Friday before Anzac Day (unless this is Good Friday), with the appeal continuing until 25 April. Poppies still symbolise remembrance, and New Zealanders want to show this at other times as well as on Anzac Day. The red poppy can be seen at major commemorative events, at military funerals and at war graves and cemeteries in New Zealand and around the world. In 2020, Poppy Day was cancelled for the first time since its inception because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.