We all know that the Poppy is the universal symbol for respect to the fallen, it is also a sign of solidarity and hope to our brave serving man and women who risk their life’s day in day out for their country, by wearing the poppy we are telling them and the world that we are proud of them, that we are behind them and that we support them. We know why we wear our Poppy with pride on our chest, but how did that small but showy bloom come to be the symbol of such pride?
It all started during World War one and a single but powerful poem which captured the attention and imagination of a lady who swore she would always wear this bloom in respect.
During the Great War, because of the mass fighting and bombing that occurred on the western front again and again and again, the previously beautiful countryside’s were swiftly turned from lush green land to fields of mud, the landscape was bleak and barren where little if anything would grow, except a certain little red flower.
On 3rd May 1915, after losing a close friend in Ypres the day before, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrea noticed how amongst such death and destruction the simple Poppy was growing and thriving against the odd’s, this observation resulted in one of the most known and well-loved poems of all time “In Flanders Fields”. the poem was first published on 8th December 1915 in a London-based magazine called Punch.
In 1917 American professor Moina Michael was lecturing at the University of Georgia when the USA entered WWI, wanting to do something to help she took leave of her work and volunteered to assist with YMCA. On 9th November 1918, Moina, after reading John McCrea’s “In Flanders fields” she wrote a poem of her own named “We Shall Keep The Faith” in tribute and from that day she vowed to always wear a Poppy in remembrance for those that has fallen. At a YMCA conference she appeared with a silk Poppy pinned to coat and handed out 25 more to those attending she campaigned tirelessly to have the Poppy adopted as the National symbol of remembrance.
It was at a conference in 1920 that the National American Legion adopted it as their official symbol of remembrance, it was at this conference a Frenchwoman, Anna E. Guerin who was inspired by what Moina had accomplished at how the Poppy had become a symbol of such importance that she made her own artificial Poppies; the poppies’ that are commonly used today.
After the war was over Moina returned to work at the University of Georgia and there she taught classes of disabled servicemen, she realized how much they needed financial and occupational support, thus she thought of the idea of selling her silk Poppies as a way to raise vital funds to assist disable veterans.
In 1921 Anna sent her Poppy Sellars to London, where the Poppy was adopted by Field Marshal Douglas Haig a founder of the Royal British Legion to be their symbol of remembrance too. The Poppy was quickly adopted by Veterans group’s in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and it was said that all countries who adopted the remembrance Poppy were the “victors” of World War.
From then on for the rest of Moina’s life she was always known as the “Poppy Lady”, for her hard work in various humanitarian efforts, Moina received numerous awards. She retired in 1934 and then in 1941 went on to publish her autobiography titled “The Miracle of Flower: The Story of the Flanders Fields Poppy”
Because of a poem of loss and salvation and the act’s of two incredible women Moina and Anna, the Poppy was adopted as a symbol as remembrance. A symbol of pride and respect. By wearing our Poppy we are not only showing respect for the fallen but also to, two great women for their hard and selfless work.
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.
The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red exhibit at the Tower of London in 2014 on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I which consists of 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British and colonial death.