The Poppy – A Symbol of Memorial Day

Posted 5/25/2022

 

WW1, also known as The Great War, saw the deaths of over 8 million soldiers from 1914 to 1918. The landscape of Western Europe was ravaged by mortars, boots and field artillery as the war progressed. Dormant wildflower seeds were churned up and began growing as the countryside began to heal. The common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) was among those, with its bright orange blooms.

Canadian officer and surgeon John McCrae, a member of the Canadian Field Artillery tending the dying, maimed, and injured near West Flanders, Belgium, saw firsthand the nightmare of war. When a good friend was killed, McCrae conducted his burial service, writing a tribute in the voice of the fallen soldiers. He later completed it as a poem.

 

The poem, “In Flanders Fields”, first published in 1915, would become a catalyst for military remembrances throughout the world. Red silk poppies were made and worn as a symbol of commemoration. The American Legion adopted the poppy as a national emblem of remembrance in 1920. In Europe, fabric poppies were sold to fund restoration of war-torn areas and to help with housing and employment for WW1 veterans. The Poppy Factory (located in England and Scotland) still provides veteran support and produces millions of remembrance wreaths, symbols and poppies each year.

 

IN FLANDERS FIELDS

 

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.

 

By John McCrae