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