Veteran’s Day – Why the Poppy?

by Cheryl McCann

On Veteran's Day, why the poppy has become known as the remembrance flower has a lot of history behind it. Let's take an in-depth look into it further.

What does the Red-flowered Cornfield Poppy signify? It signifies death with a promise of resurrection. Soldiers who fought in Belgium and northern France were exposed to the blood-red blooms of the cornfield poppy during World War I. It blooms in the fields in summer to this day.  Returning American ex-servicemen made this flower their emblem. Through arrangements by the Americans, women in war-ravaged northern France made artificial poppies to raise funds for children of the war.

Why is the poppy associated with Flanders Fields? A poem was written by a Canadian doctor, Lt. Col. John McRae, on May 3, 1915, after he performed the funeral of his friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer and had witnessed so much death and destruction. Lt. Col. John McRae died three years later on January 28. It is reported that as he lay dying, he said ‘Tell them this, if ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep.’

In this poem, ‘In Flanders Fields,’ McRae makes reference to “poppies.” Here is his beautiful poem:

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.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

According to New Zealand History, McCrae threw away the poem, but a fellow officer rescued it and sent it on to the English magazine Punch. It was was published on December 8, 1915.
How did the poppy become a symbol of the dead World War I soldiers? In that same year, 1915,

Moina Belle Michael wrote a poem paying tribute to Lt. Col. John McRae’s poem vowing:  “We Shall Keep the Faith.” What was meant by this is to “always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance” for those who served in World War I.

In September of 1920, Moina Belle Michael and Madame E. Guerin attended the American Legion’s annual convention where the poppy was adopted as the symbol of remembrance. Both are known as “The Poppy Lady.”

Name some of the countries who recognize the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.  Included are the United States, New Zealand, Australia, France and Canada to mention a few.

What are we remembering on November 11? We remember that by the signing of the “Armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 marking the end of World War I, more than 20 million from over 26 countries were dead.”

Poppy Flower symbolizes remembrance
Photo Credit - http://www.flickr.com/photos/cameliatwu/3867753879/

References

Defense.gov:  www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=56634
New Zealand History:  www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/anzac-day/poppies
Additional Reading:

Great War – UK - http://www.greatwar.co.uk/article/remembrance-poppy.htm

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