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Le Bleuet de France - origins of the French cornflower tradition

On Remembrance Day, we look at why the French wear cornflower pins to commemorate their soldiers

The bleuets are therefore an homage to all of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for France Pic: Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB / Shutterstock

In France, the symbol of remembrance and solidarity with World War I veterans is le bleuet - the cornflower.

Although not as widespread as the British tradition of the poppy, you are likely to see cornflower pins on the lapels of government officials and across the public on November 11.

So why have the French chosen to appropriate this little blue flower in particular?

Cornflowers are said to symbolize innocence, delicacy and hope for the future. Blue is also the first of the three colours of the French flag.

Like the poppy, cornflowers continued to grow on fields ravaged by the fighting of World War I, symbolising new life and hope.

They were also the subject of various poems, most famously Alphonse Bourgoin’s Bleuets de France from 1916.

‘Bleuet’, however, was also the nickname given to young soldiers arriving at the Chemin des Dames battlefield in the new blue horizon uniform. The older soldiers still wore the old, traditional uniform, which included red trousers and blue coats.

The bleuets are therefore an homage to all of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for France.

Pic: Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Shutterstock

Where did the idea to sell cornflower pins in France come from?

The idea to sell cornflower pins to raise money for wounded veterans came from two women in 1925 - Charlotte Malleterre, daughter of the director of l’Hotel National des Invalides, and Suzanne Leenhardt, a nurse major.

They set up a workshop at the Institution Nationale des Invalides (INI), where residents made the flowers out of cloth and sold them on the public highway to make income.

128,000 cornflowers were sold on November 11 1934, the first time they were sold on the streets of Paris. In 1935, the state made it official to sell the Bleuets de France on every November 11.

In 2011, then-president Nicolas Sarkozy declared November 11 the date for ‘the commemoration of the Great War and of all those who died for France.’ You will therefore also see cornflower sold pins worn on and around May 8, Victory in Europe Day, which celebrates the Nazis’ official surrender in 1945 and thus the end of World War II.

Related Articles:

The Poppy Appeal turns 100 this year with pride

Rediscovered WW1 tunnel in France ‘still smells of gunpowder’

Did you know? First WW1 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has French origins

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