The Poem and the inspiration for poppies
The poppy is not a symbol of victory, many who wear the poppy have seen service or provided support to the forces and civilians -remembering courage and sometimes – all too frequently- the supreme sacrifice.
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.
In December 1915 “Punch” magazine published an (anonymous) poem “In Flanders Fields”, written by a Canadian military doctor, Lt. Col. John McCRae, inspired after presiding over the funeral of his friend Lt. Alex Helmer. The lieutenant died on a poppy strewn battlefield during the second battle of Ypres in Belgian Flanders. Poppies, bright red wild flowers were the first to bloom on the moonscapes created by intense artillery barrages, and created an intense carpet over thousands of fallen soldiers buried in the sodden mud of the terrible conflict.
The United States and Canada
In 1918 an American YWCA worker , Moina Michael, was inspired by the work, writing her own poem, vowing to always wear a red poppy in remembrance of the dead. In November 1918 Miona’s fellow YWCA Overseas War Conference members thought highly of the idea of a remembrance poppy, and by 1920 these ladies had successfully petitioned the American Legion to adopt the poppy as their own remembrance symbol.
It was now that a Frenchwoman, Madame Maria Anna Guerin had the idea that a cheaply made silk, and then paper poppies could be sold to help orphans, widows and injured ex servicemen. She sold her poppies with female volunteers in France and in the U.K .
Field Marshal the Earl Haig had these poppies adopted by the Royal British Legion – he saw it as a way of raising funds and also employing ex servicemen to make them. However for the first British Poppy Campaign (1921) they used poppies purchased from France.
Designs around the world
There are various designs around the world
United Kingdom and Commonwealth
Possibly the most familiar is that used in most of the United Kingdom which is distributed to many services of remembrance in Commonwealth countries around the world, and to countries where Commonwealth forces saw action in the two world wars. They are also worn in the former colony of Hong Kong
Scotland has it’s own distinct design of poppy, more similar to the real flower. than the one used in the rest of the UK.
The Island of Ireland.
In the northern (British) six counties poppies are often to be seenworn around Armistice Day and Remembrance Day
In Eire the wearing of poppies is not common as they are associated with “The Troubles” between Irish Nationalist and the British Government. However the Irish Government hold a National Day of Commemoration in July where real flowers are used for wreaths.
The United States of America
The USA has two designs of poppies, for Memorial Day poppy and the poppy of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The second country after the United States to adopt the poppy, their design is very distinctive and like the Scots regard the design as more authentic a representation of a real flower than those used in many other countries.
Poppies are worn on Remembrance Day (11th November) and available to be worn on Anzac Day, but on this occasion a sprig of rosemary is very commonly worn.
In New Zealand poppies are commonly seen on Anzac day (25th April) and on Remembrance Day.
Thailand has it’s own distinctive design which is worn for Veterans Day in January at a service outside Independence Monument in Bangkok
Sri Lanka is one of the many Commonwealth countries to observe Remembrance Services, although controvercies over the tragic civil have clouded the observance of days of remembrance
Today France does not use the poppy, but rather the Bleut de France
The White Poppy
White Remembrance Poppy
In 1933 the Women’s Co-operative Guild introduced a white poppy as a lasting symbol for peace and an end to all wars. These are rarely seen today as most see the red poppy as a symbol worn for the same sentiments.
The Animal Aid Purple poppy
This poppy is commemorate the millions of animals who died in conflict in the service of theri human masters. In WW1 over one million horses died in battle. Dogs, pigeons, draft animals all died in huge numbers.
Many people around the world object to the wearing of poppies, especially if they were the former – or are present enemies of those countries were they are commonly worn today. However it is generally seen as a mark of respect for all who fell in conflict.