November

Black poppies

Each year in November, the recognisable red poppy is displayed around the nation to commemorate British soldiers - but what about black poppies? Interior Design student Jaida Salmon explains their significance.

After lasting for four years, the First World War ended on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, which we now celebrate as Remembrance Day. On 11 November at 11:00am each year, we as a nation stand together to commemorate the fallen soldiers who died for their country. The recognisable red poppy is shown throughout the country to represent and commemorate British soldiers. The poppies are also sold and displayed to help raise money for members of the Armed Forces.

During the First World War, the battlefield was a land that saw thousands of deaths and many injured. At a time of death and very little hope, soldier John McCrae had noticed a field that was growing poppies - this was Flanders field. A field that showed during all the deaths and injuries, even in the worst of situations, hope is still present.

But there’s more to this story. The British history and stories that we are told often focus on soldiers from one ethnicity, there are communities out there who deserve to have their story told, who deserve to be represented for helping in the war and bringing the country back to its feet.

The story that I want to tell is the story of the Africans and Caribbeans who helped during and after the war.

The significance of black poppies

The black poppy resembles African and Caribbean men and women who served in the wars. World War 1 and 2 had been a time when soldiers around England had been recruited to help win the war and fight against their enemies. The British Empire had colonised five continents by 1914, and this included countries in Africa, as well as Antigua, St Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and the smaller countries within the Caribbean.

With these countries being under the control of the British Empire, it meant that they had to fight with Britain - they were now soldiers for the British army. Being a soldier during the war would mean that you were fighting for your country, you would work together to end the war and come out victorious, but for many soldiers that were black or brown this was not the case.

The soldiers from the colonies had been told that they would be on the same terms and conditions as the British soldiers when they joined, however this wasn’t what happened. Black soldiers had to deal with threats, taunts and hatred from other soldiers, head officers and the people of the country. They served for a country that showed no respect to them and they were not seen as equals with the British soldiers.

After the war

At the end of the Second World War, there was an increase in demand for men and women to help bring Britain back to its feet. With many British soldiers being traumatised from the war, some even disabled, Britain relied on their colonised countries to help. This was the Windrush generation, who helped bring Britain back to life, from working in the factories to being bus drivers, postal workers, helping out on the farms, within hospitals and in day-to-day life. They too were important, and without them the economy would not have bounced back.

The men and women who boarded the boat Windrush were told their country needed them, Britain was the promised land, the land where everyone went to live a better life. They were told they would receive health benefits and housing and all things glorious in Britain and become residents, but this wasn’t always the case.

70 years later, this is still affecting the Windrush generation, with threats of deportation due to missing legal documents, untraceable proof of residency from parents who have passed away, or simply not found, leaving a generation hopeless and out of options. Britain has been their home since their parents had travelled to serve their country and now they are no longer classed as residents due to documents they could not provide, were lost in the system or never even recorded.

Creating my own black poppies

Around this time last year, shops were putting down their black history month displays and getting prepared to set up Remembrance Day poppies.

I asked myself, “Why can I not find a black poppy to wear? Why can I not find a black poppy at all?” I had known that black people were underrepresented and devalued, but it stumped me that we always take it on the chin and don’t question it. I did research into this and to see if the BBC had published any information to resemble black soldiers within the media, I had found an article explaining how there are different colours of the poppy and that was it.

  • Red Poppy - memorial to World War One and following conflicts
  • Purple poppy - to remember animal victims of war
  • Black poppy - remembering African, black and Caribbean communities contribution
  • White poppy - remembers people who died in conflict with a focus on an end to the war

I didn’t want to question this anymore and I wanted to take action. I wanted my ancestors to feel the appreciation and, most importantly, the recognition that they deserved. I wanted to let the younger generations know about this and encourage them to do some research and learn about their history, because quite frankly, the British history we are taught is not our history.

To help share the awareness and the importance of a black poppy, I have created them myself. By spending months crafting away I have come out successful and made a black poppy keyring and a pin which can be worn. I also created red and black poppies for those who wish to support both ethnicities on Remembrance Day. It’s been a journey that I am most proud of and I am wanting to share this knowledge and information with you all.

View the work that I have created.

Find out more

These are just a few of the links and research that I have read and uncovered. There’s books, films, clips on BBC and other media all about the black soldiers of Britain and more. Let’s learn together and not forget our history.

Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.

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