Linda's Little Britain - The Story of the Remembrance Poppy
Submitted by: Linda   Date: 2016-02-15 00:46
To trace the history of the Remembrance Poppy, we have to journey back to a time and place stripped of almost all beauty and compassion. Belgian Flanders represented the northernmost point of the Western Front during the First World War, once the trenchlines had been inscribed in the earth by the end of 1914. Between 1914 and 1918, Flanders became one of the most devastated regions of the entire battlefield.

Yet as many soldiers noticed, in Flanders and in other regions of the blasted frontline, nature had still not given up on the land. Papaver rhoeas is known by many other common names – corn poppy, corn rose, field poppy, red poppy and red weed. The last name is revealing, for although this member of the poppy family produces a beautiful vivid red flower, it is nonetheless classified as a weed. It grows in the most ravaged and inhospitable of land (indeed it thrives best in soil that has been disturbed), hence it managed to add a haunting dash of colour to the shell-thrashed landscape of Flanders. Another of its common names is the Flanders Poppy.

To see such beautiful flowers growing across fields that were already sown with the bodies of thousands of dead men must have left an impression on the minds of all who witnessed it, the flowers delivering a curiously mixed evocation of the red blood of the fallen yet the regeneration of new life. One man who was captured by the vision was the Canadian soldier Lieutenant-Colonel John Alexander McCrae.

McCrae also suffered personal loss – his friend and former student Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed in action. McCrae conducted the burial service himself, but during this time he also noticed the red poppies growing obstinately throughout the Flanders landscape. Being a man of literary talents, the poppies and his dead friend began to stir a poetic vision that would move generations to come. The origins of McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” are uncertain, in terms of when and where he first composed it, but he became convinced of its merit and spent months working it into shape.
McCrae’s poem in turn inspired an American academic, Moina Michael to make sell red silk poppies which were then brought to England by a French lady, Anna Guérin. The (Royal) British Legion, formed in 1921, ordered 9 million of the poppies which were sold on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately and that first ever 'Poppy Appeal' raised over £106,000, a considerable amount of money at the time, which was used to help WW1 veterans with employment, housing etc.

Here is the poem written by John McCree
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
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