The story behind the poppy: behind the scenes

We go behind the scenes of The Royal British Legion’s 2015 Poppy Appeal campaign to rediscover the story of the poppy and how it is a symbol of both Remembrance and hope.

Each year when we wear The Royal British Legion’s red poppy proudly to remember those brave men and women who fell to protect our freedom we often forget that each poppy also supports our recent veterans, Service men, women and their families. 

Our behind the scenes video

Your donations to the Legion’s annual Poppy Appeal helps to deliver a wide range of services to our Armed Forces community, including career advice, living with disability, coping with bereavement, financial awareness and practical support. Every poppy plays a part in providing that support.

For 2015 Poppy Appeal, we wanted to re-establish the connection between the poppy and the work of the Legion to make the public aware of who we help and what the money raised is spent on.


When it was originally adopted by the Legion in 1921, the poppy was actually a symbol of hope because it helped to raise vital funds to support the Service men returning from the First World War.

We want to re-establish the poppy as a symbol of hope for the future by telling the 'story behind the poppy', and how it honours the memory of the fallen along with supporting a better the future for the living.

So this year’s Poppy Appeal features a stunning advertising campaign that contrasts original portraits of WW1 soldiers against photos of modern-day British Service personnel and veterans to explain how the Poppy Appeal is not just about remembering the fallen, but also supporting today’s serving and ex-Service men and women.


To develop this campaign we needed to find original photos of soldiers and sailors from the First World War. Our research led us to a photographic studio in Lewes that is possibly the oldest in the world.

The E. Reeves Studio was established in 1858 and is still run by the same family. Tom Reeves, the current owner, told us his great grandfather took photographic portraits of Service men before they were sent to the Great War, sometimes the only photo they had ever had taken.

What was amazing was that not only did he still have the photos his great grandfather took, but he even had the original camera on which they were taken. And the camera was still in working order.

Meeting the Tom at the studio was like stepping back in time. The whole place was completely unchanged! Not just the original shop front – the studio hadn’t been touched in 150 years!

A small, dark cellar held shelves full of boxes – every time they had taken a photo, on film or on glass plates as they did 100 years ago, the studio took the negative and filed it in this archive.

As well as portraits of Service men we discovered images of training exercises taken out in the field and full regimental shots.

Finding the original shots was an incredible moment. As we took out these precious glass plates and put them on a light-box, they revealed the faces of brave men looking back at us.

They had stood in this studio 100 years ago having their photos taken; photos that would be a record for history and a precious memento for their loved ones.

We had found the perfect setting for our campaign and with it the opportunity to show how the poppy was a symbol of both Remembrance and hope.


For the campaign to work we needed to find people from the Legion community with rich stories that would be our modern-day models to contrast the photos from 100 years ago. A difficult task as the Legion helps thousands of Service men, women and their families each year.

We found six wonderful people from those who were supported by or associated with the Legion. They agreed to join the campaign to show the range of people that the Legion’s poppy helps today.


Tom hadn't used the original camera before but he had been brought up with that style of photography. So although it wasn't something he had done for 15 years, as soon as he started getting into it he was confidently saying, ”Oh, I remember all this!”.

From former Army Commando Mark, ex-Cavalryman Corie and veteran Alan with his beautiful dog Kim on the first day of the photo shoot, through to the second day with Harmeet, Linda and Peter who all still serve, our models rose to the occasion. They all took directions from Tom and found their spot perfectly to match the original shots.

They were wonderfully patient. With a camera this old, each of them had to stand or sit completely still for a second and half to make sure the exposure on the glass plate was perfect. It doesn't sound like much but to stay perfectly still for a few seconds isn't easy.

Our models did a brilliant job with even Kim the dog sitting still for the perfect shot. Their Service training probably helped!

It was a really lovely and emotional moment when everyone saw their photos for the first time alongside the WW1 soldier’s image.

Linda, who hadn’t stopped talking, all day was suddenly silent, then said “I’m speechless, I’m going to cry!”


There are thousands of stories behind the poppy. Please share them to show people how The Royal British Legion poppy is both a symbol of Remembrance and one of hope for our recent veterans and serving men, women and their families.

Explore other ways the poppy helps to support our Armed Forces community.

Make a donation to help The Royal British Legion support our Armed Forces.

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