Wear a poppy today in remembrance of those who gave their lives for freedom.
Why is Veterans Day (in the U.S.; Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in Great Britain and the Commonwealth) on the 11th day of the 11th month and does not change? The Great War, as it was known at the time – “great” retaining its original meaning of “large, huge” – not the current meaning of “good”, “excellent” – ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 after some 20 million people had been slaughtered.
The use of the poppy as a symbol on Veterans Day is derived from its symbolism in the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red color an appropriate symbol for the blood spilt in the war.
In Flanders Fields
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.”
John McCrae, 1915
McCrae was a Canadian who enlisted to help the Allies in the war. He was made Medical Officer upon landing in Europe. During a lull in the battle with the nub of a pencil he scratched on a page from his dispatch book. The poem found its way into the pages of Punch magazine. By 1918 the poem was well known throughout the Allied world. Moina Michael, an American woman, wrote these lines in reply:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
She then adopted the custom of wearing a red poppy in memory of the sacrifices of war and also as a symbol of keeping the faith.
A French woman, Madame Guerin, visiting the United States, learned of the custom and took it one step further. When she returned to France she decided to hand make the red poppies and sell them to raise money for the benefit of the orphaned and destitute women and children in war torn areas of France. This tradition spread to the Commonwealth and the United States and is still followed today.
The Poppy is that it is a plant which thrives on disturbed ground. The seeds, which are produced by the millions in the seed heads, lie dormant until the soil is broken up. The shelling in the trenches was perfect for the poppy, which grew in their millions when nothing else did. The poems came later, the poppies came from the activity and the blasting of the ground.
“Today I saw a man selling poppies stop a lady and asked if he could re-position her poppy. While doing so he told the lady she should wear the poppy of the right side. The red represents the blood of all those who gave their lives. The black represents the mourning of of those who didn’t have their loved ones return home. The green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much. The leaf should be positioned at 11:00 o’clock to represent the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the time that World War I formally ended. He was worried that younger generations wouldn’t understand this and his generation wouldn’t be around much longer to teach them. We must remember those from our current wars, too!
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