The Poppy Factory was founded in 1922 by Major George Howson MC, a British Army officer in the First World War and winner of the Military Cross in 1917. George Howson’s vision for the charity was to provide employment for veterans injured during the First World War.
Major Howson bought land in Richmond, Surrey, and built the factory on the site where we still make Remembrance poppies, wreaths and Remembrance symbols for The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.
Remembering the fallen
In 1928, Major Howson MC founded the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey, a two-week memorial event for veterans and members of the public to pay their respects to those who have lost their lives in battle. The Field is still held every year and is opened on the Thursday before Remembrance Sunday.
The factory’s location, close to the River Thames and Richmond Park, was carefully chosen to help injured soldiers’ recovery and rehabilitation after the war. Flats were built next to the factory to provide homes for employees and their families, and there was also once a pub and cinema to provide relaxation for workers.
Our work today
In 2010, The Poppy Factory created the Getting You Back To Work service. Instead of veterans coming to the factory to produce Remembrance products, we wanted to help veterans find jobs within their own communities that harness the skills they developed in the services. In 2018, we celebrated supporting 1,000 wounded, injured and sick veterans into civilian employment with our Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.
In Flanders Fields poem published in Punch magazine1 May 1915
Moved by the death of his friend after the Second Battle of Ypres, the Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote the famous war poem, In Flanders Fields. McCrae wrote about the poppies that grew on the battlefields: “If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields”.
Moina Michael decides to sell silk poppies9 November 1918
Moina Michael read In Flanders Fields and wrote her own poem in response, We Shall Keep The Faith. Michael was an American professor who taught a class of injured veterans. She saw the need for ex-Service men to have financial and occupational support and was the first to have the idea of selling silk poppies to raise funds. This was later adopted by Earl Haig’s Appeal Fund (which became the Poppy Appeal).
The Disabled Society was founded1 January 1920
The Disabled Society, which later became The Poppy Factory, was founded after the First World War by Major George Howson, winner of the Military Cross. Howson wanted the factory, situated on Old Kent Road, to provide employment support for wounded ex-Servicemen.
Anna Guérin sells silk poppies15 May 1921
Moina Michael’s silk poppies inspired Anna Guérin, a French woman involved in the French artificial flower trade. She went on to sell poppies in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain. The first ‘Haig Fund’ launched in 1921 using artificial poppies made by women and children in devastated areas of France. It raised £106,000.
The British Legion adopts the poppy1 September 1921
Anna Guérin persuaded Earl Haig, the UK’s Commander-in-Chief and president of The British Legion, to adopt the poppy as The British Legion’s fundraising symbol. The first ‘Poppy Day’ was such a success that demand far outstripped the supply of poppies made in France, so Haig needed to look for a British supplier.
The Disabled Society makes poppies1 April 1922
George Howson pledged The Disabled Society could supply The British Legion with silk poppies for the Haig Fund, and in doing so, gave paid work to British veterans wounded in the First World War.
George Howson’s letter home14 May 1922
On starting his vision, Howson wrote a letter to his parents: “It is a large responsibility and will be very difficult. If the experiment is successful it will be the start of an industry to employ 150 men. I do not think it can be a great success, but it is worth trying. I consider the attempt ought to be made if only to give the disabled their chance.”
The workforce grows1 August 1922
The workforce grew quickly from five men to more than 40. Together, they made over a million poppies to be sold by The British Legion.
The Prince of Wales’ Royal Wreath1 November 1924
The Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) visited the factory in November 1924 and ordered a large royal wreath for the Cenotaph. This started the factory’s long-standing connection with the Royal Family. At the time, the factory made some 27 million poppies and there was a long waiting list for prospective injured ex-Servicemen wanting employment.
The Poppy Factory moves to Richmond1 January 1925
Within just three years, The Poppy Factory, as it had been known, had outgrown the former collar factory premises on the Old Kent Road as the demand for poppies increased. The factory moved to the Lansdown Brewery site in Richmond using funds donated by Howson. The factory employed more than 300 veterans and the site had four acres of land allowing room for expansion, housing for workers and space for relaxation and rehabilitation.
First Field of Remembrance1 January 1928
George Howson founded the first Field of Remembrance in the grounds of Westminster Abbey in 1928 with a small band of factory workers. They grouped around two battlefield crosses, similar to the ones used in Flanders and the Western Front, with trays of poppies. They invited people to plant a poppy with the crosses. In the first year, there were only two memorials – one dedicated to “Tommy Atkins” – a nickname for a British soldier – and one to Earl Haig, who had died in January that year. The Field is an annual event and 2018 marked the 90th anniversary of the first ceremony.
Howson’s death1 June 1936
George Howson was much loved, and his death from pancreatic cancer in 1936 affected the veteran workers greatly. His coffin was taken to The Poppy Factory and surrounded by colourful wreaths and poppies. Every worker took his turn to hold an hour of silent vigil in memoriam with the coffin.
Centre of the poppy button changes1 January 1994
The centre of the Remembrance poppy had always read ‘Haig Fund’, the name for the early Poppy Appeal. In 1994 the button was changed to the ‘Poppy Appeal’.
Veterans’ employment needs change1 January 2000
It became clear that across the country, people leaving the Armed Forces wanted to work closer to their families in their own communities. As the factory team began to decline in numbers, automation took up the slack as the demand for Remembrance products was still high.
First veterans supported into external work1 January 2005
The Poppy Factory had often been used as a stepping-stone from conflict and rehabilitation into new employment. In 2005, The Poppy Factory started supporting veterans with health conditions into employment within civilian businesses around the country.
Getting You Back to Work programme launched1 January 2010
The Poppy Factory launched its new Getting You Back To Work service to support veterans with health conditions into paid employment, not just in the factory but around the whole country. Employability and occupational health experts were recruited regionally and partnerships with employers were forged to provide opportunities for veterans.
Her Majesty The Queen visits The Poppy Factory1 November 2012
Her Majesty The Queen visits The Poppy Factory in 2012, her fourth visit, to see first-hand how George Howson MC’s mission to help ex-Service personnel with health conditions had continued, 90 years after the factory first opened. The Queen also visited in 1946, 1962 and 1992.
HRH The Duchess of Cornwall becomes Patron1 October 2013
Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall became The Poppy Factory’s Patron in 2013. The Duchess visited the factory and met some of the veterans who have been helped into civilian employment elsewhere.
Biggest-ever Poppy Appeal1 November 2014
In the year that marked the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, the order for poppies and wreaths was the largest ever from The Royal British Legion. That year, the Poppy Appeal raised a record £44m for the charity.
Record Field of Remembrance1 November 2014
The Poppy Factory’s annual Field of Remembrance was opened in 2014 by HRH The Duke of Sussex, and raised a record £35,000. The money raised was donated to The Royal British Legion, as happens every year.
500 veterans supported into work1 September 2015
When the Getting You Back To Work service was launched, a target was set to support 500 ex-Service men and women with heath conditions into sustainable work by 2016. In the summer of 2015 this ambitious milestone was reached, proving that there is a great need for The Poppy Factory’s life-changing work.
Centenary of the end of the First World War24 August 2018
A team of seven veterans supported into work by The Poppy Factory took part in the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s Round Britain Challenge. The team sailed from Cardiff to London on the final leg of Lord Dannatt’s challenge to commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War.
The Poppy Factory helps 1000 people into work6 September 2018
Since 2015, a further 500 veterans have been supported into civilian employment. This brings the overall figure to 1,000 veterans helped by our Getting You Back to Work service since 2010. The public were instrumental in helping us reach our target with the #1000messages campaign that took place in the summer over Armed Forces Week. Our Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, also hosted a reception at Clarence House to mark the occasion.