Today in Canada, we remember those who risked their lives and lost their lives at war. A few weeks before “Remembrance Day”, coinciding with the U.S. “Veterans Day” , we donate spare change (or hopefully more) to purchase a bright red, felt- like poppy. These are worn to signify that we have not forgotten the sacrifices of those who have served in the military.
The custom of wearing poppies evolved from the poem, “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, May 1915. The poem which was published after his death, was recited every year in classrooms across Canada as we approached Nov.11th.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of this famous war poem.
Who was John McCrae?
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD was a Canadian poet. He was also a physician and soldier during World War I. He served as a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres. (WW I)
He was moved by the sight of a million poppies growing on the battlefields and cemeteries of Ypres, Belgium during the First World War. His words were penned as he sat in the back of an ambulance just north of Ypres, where he had recently buried his friend, Lieutenant Alex Helmer.
I have come to realize that some Americans are not familiar with this famous war poem or the symbolism of the poppy. Ironically, the idea of adorning poppies on our lapels originated from an American woman. Inspired by John McCrae’s poem, Moina Michael wore a silk poppy to symbolize remembrance of those who served in WW I. She advocated the idea for two years in hopes of the poppy becoming a national commemorative symbol. Her efforts were not in vain and the poppy is worn proudly in many countries around the world.
The last surviving WW I veteran died in 2012. Her name was Florence Green from the U.K.
Many of our WW II veterans are still with us.
Today and always, let us honour their strength, survival and sacrifices.
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, May 1915
It’s sad that most Americans are not familiar with the poem or the custom of wearing a poppy. When I was in school (in the U.S.), we had to memorize the poem, and a lady known as “The Poppy Lady” distributed poppies to all of us. Later, poppies were sold to raise money for veterans’ organizations, but I haven’t seen that done in many years.
Wow, that is so interesting. I was not aware that the custom had existed and then faded. Thanks for dropping in! 🙂
This post brings back memories. When I was younger, I lived in Canada for a couple years and I remember being given those poppies in school. I would happily pin it on, oblivious to the significance behind doing the same.
Aww…well it’s great that you participated in the custom. Thanks for sharing your story. 🙂
I learned something here…thanks for remembering veterans and sharing the history of the poppy, the poem, and John McCrae.
Thanks lynn! I am happy to share it. 🙂
Thank you for your lovely article. My Dad met Moina Michael during WWII. He was studying radio communication at the University of Georgia along with 300 other soldiers in training. They lived in the Georgian Hotel, and Moina lived on a floor above them. One day my Dad found out that his two brothers were missing in action. Moina was kind to him, and he never forgot her kindness. When I began to write for children he asked me to write about his “Poppy Lady.” Because, as you said, people were forgetting all she had done for soldiers and their families, and the significance of the poppy was fading. I promised my Dad I’d do what I could to help change that. With the blessings of Moina’s two great-nieces I’m sharing the poppy story with children across America.
WOW!!!! This comment is so precious. Thank you! 🙂
It amazes me the way the blogosphere can connect people in significant ways. Thank you so much for sharing this story. Congrats on your book ! Can you tell me what age group it would be best suited for?