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 1934, 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 unionist but boycotted by Irish republicans.
In New Zealand, a White Poppy Annual Appeal has been run in 2009 and 2010 by Peace Movement Aotearoa in the week preceding Anzac Day, with all proceeds going to White Poppy Peace Scholarships. The appeal was controversial, with Veterans' Affairs Minister Judith Collins claiming the white poppy appeal was "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". However, 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. 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. Others were concerned that the white poppy symbolised and supported the PPU's total support for appeasement alongside the British Union of Fascists (BUF), including publishing a pamphlet 'Warmongers' suggesting that Hitler's Germany should be allowed to absorb the Continent in the interest of peace.
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 satirizing Thatcher's opposition to White Poppies, which he allowed the PPU to republish.
- John Montgomery, quoted in the Irish News, 10 November 1986, p.1
- "Wiltshire hillside unveiling for giant carved Flanders Poppy". BBC. 28 October 2016.
- 2009 White Poppy Annual Appeal on scoop.co.nz, retrieved 2009-04-25
- Hank Schouten and Paul Easton (21 April 2010). "Rival poppy campaign angers veterans". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
- Brown, Jonathan (2006-11-11). "Red, white, or none at all? The great poppy debate". The Independent on Sunday. Retrieved 2008-11-09.
- Walters, Kendall (9 November 2012). "Legion sees red over white poppy campaign". Canoe. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
- "Why the Poppy?". Ninety Years of Remembrance. BBC. 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-09.
- Wainwright, Martin (7 November 1986). "White poppies reopen old wounds / Disarmament divisions affect preparations for Remembrance Day". The Guardian (London). p. 6.
- Next Left. Fabian Society. 2011 http://www.nextleft.org/2011/05/why-george-lansbury-wasnt-labours.html. Missing or empty
- 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 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.
- News articles