Major George Howson was an engineer. He was a man of great energy and determination. He won the military cross in WWl. He was addicted to strong Turkish cigarettes and bought them 10000 at a time. He was also the founder of The Royal British Legion Poppy factory!
Through the work of Anna Guerin of France and Moina Michael of the USA, both very practical women who took Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s famous poem, “In Flanders Fields”, and devised a way of raising vital funds for wartime charities. The British Legion had been set up the year before and the very first French Poppy Appeal – using silk poppies made by widows – had raised £106,000. In 1921 the first British Poppy appeal was held. In the first year the poppies were imported from France and there was huge demand as poppies quickly became the icons of remembrance. The Major made a connection; Remembrance Day needed poppies and wounded ex-soldiers needed work. In a letter to his parents he spoke of using a £2000 cheque he had been given to set up a factory to, ‘…give the disabled their chance.’ He wrote that he felt the project would probably not be successful but that he ought to attempt it anyway.
He set up The Disabled Society in London with just five injured ex-servicemen, and in spite of his initial lack of optimism, in few years that had grown to 350 men. He set up a sister factory in Edinburgh to supply poppies to Scotland, and the London factory moved to larger premises near the Thames in Richmond and was renamed The Poppy Factory.
As time went on the needs of veterans changed. They wanted to work in their own communities, closer to their families and to use the many and varied skills they had acquired during their careers in the armed services, prior to becoming injured.
In 2010, The Poppy Factory began to actively help disabled ex-servicemen find the work they wanted in the places they wanted to be. It continues to build on its strong historical foundations to provide an employability service that supports hundreds of ex-service personnel with varying health challenges into meaningful employment with businesses across the country every year.
Moina Michael was an American professor. She wrote a response to McCrae’s poem in 1918 entitled We Shall Keep The Faith. She vowed to always wear a poppy as a symbol of Remembrance for those who served in the war.
She realised the need to provide financial and occupational support for ex-Servicemen after teaching a class of disabled veterans at the University of Georgia, and so she pursued the idea of selling silk poppies to raise funds for them.