Red flower of remembrance
Every year over 45 million red paper flowers are produced as a symbolic gesture of remembrance for fallen soldiers. We share the behind-the-scenes story of the iconic paper poppy.
The common poppy, Papaver rhoeas, thrives in rich soil such as the grimly scorched earth found in First World War battlefields in Flanders, Belgium and many parts of France. As a tribute to the fallen, remembrance poppies have been worn since 1921, the year the Royal British Legion was founded.
The poppy is traditionally worn on the left side of one’s jacket, as close to the heart as possible. Red remembrance poppies are well recognised all over Europe but mainly worn in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Poppies are also a common sight in war memorials in Central Europe, especially around 11 November, the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” when Great War hostilities ended in 1918.
Remembrance Day is also known as Poppy Day. The red paper poppies are distributed by volunteers in the Poppy Appeal organised by the Royal British Legion to raise donations for veterans and the Armed Forces community. Nine million paper poppies were distributed in the first Poppy Appeal in 1921, raising money for veterans’ employment and housing.
The flower is also immortalised in the famous poem In Flanders Fields by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian physician who penned the following lines in 1915 after witnessing his friend die on the battlefield: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place, and in the sky, The larks, still bravely singing, fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below.”
A hundred years of collaboration
Originally made from silk, today’s memorial poppy is made of paper, using both traditional and modern-day techniques.
Today, the poppy starts its life at a 172-year-old paper mill owned by James Cropper, located in Burneside, on the edge of the British Lake District in northwest England. James Cropper has been producing ‘poppy paper’ for over 40 years, though the mill began papermaking much earlier, in 1845.
Members of the Cropper family are still involved in the business today, with Mark Cropper as the current chairman. James Cropper’s relationship with UPM stretches back over 100 years, when UPM Kaukas first began supplying the mill with pulp.
“We recognise the value of the relationship and the quality which we both achieve in our businesses. We have taken our fibre management expertise, belief in innovation and focus on sustainability, to create new business alongside craftsman-led papermaking,” notes Phil Wild, CEO of Cropper PLC.
James Cropper’s new businesses include Technical Fibre Products, such as non-woven fabrics and materials used in aerospace, automotive and energy technologies. James Cropper’s 3D Products harness the company’s knowledge of colour production in the field of moulded fibre products as an alternative to plastic packaging.
The latest addition to the portfolio is Cup Cycling, building on the pioneering work of separating coffee cup materials and thus reducing landfill to the tune of around 2.5 billion cups thrown away in the UK each year.
Kaleidoscope of colour
Sustainability features prominently across the James Cropper range. The business offers alternatives to fossil-fuel derived materials such as plastics, and they also provide lighter weight materials for better fuel efficiency in aircraft.
“From our raw materials to our finished products, sustainability is at the heart of what we do. Efficient use of raw materials, recovery of fibre and replacing unsustainable materials is and will be our key focus,” adds Wild.
The performance of the mill’s coloured papers, such as the one used in the paper poppies, is something for which James Cropper is highly recognised. The specialist paper producer has over 12,000 different colour combinations available in its product library and a master colour blender who is able to differentiate between shades with the naked eye.
Steve Adams, Managing Director of James Cropper Paper, believes that paper will retain a core role in society for a long time yet. “We’re seeing a resurgence in paper products. This year we’ve seen an increase in the purchase of printed books, as even Millennials are turning away from the screen. Quality papers will always be in demand as personal interaction with the product becomes more sought after.”
James Cropper and the Poppy
* James Cropper developed a waterproof paper which wouldn’t leech the bright red colour in the 1970s.
* The mill also makes the green leaf paper in the Poppy design.
* The Poppy paper is made throughout the year. It is delivered to The Poppy Factory where the millions of poppies are made.
* James Cropper PLC employs over 550 people globally.
* The great-great-great grandson of the company’s founder and namesake is Mark Cropper, Chairman and custodian of the family business.
Highlight: One hundred years since the end of the First World War
TEXT: WILL STONE
PHOTOS: ERIC HOWARD & JAMES CROPPER