Lest We Forget: The Poppy

Today is Veterans Day and today’s post is dedicated to all those who have served and all those who are currently serving.  Thank you all for your service and sacrifice!

Today being Veterans Day, you may notice that some people are wearing poppies today.  Do you know the significance of the poppy on Veterans Day?  Originally, the poppies were only worn on Memorial Day but many groups have opted to also wear the poppies on Veterans Day (also known as Remembrance Day).  Veterans Day honors all those who served in the military, whether in wartime or in peacetime.  It falls on the day the World War I hostilities officially ended, “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” in 1918.  But why poppies?

The significance of the poppy goes back to World War I and the poem “In Flanders Fields” written in 1915 by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian physician who served during World War I.  McCrae wrote the poem after presiding over the funeral of a friend and comrade.

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 amidst 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.

Flanders fields refer to World War I battlefields in an area near Belgium which is now known as West Flanders, East Flanders and part of the French region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais.  The Second Battle of Ypres occurred here, which is the battle that McCrae’s friend died in and helped to prompt the writing of “In Flanders Fields”.  After all the devastation on these battlefields in World War I, poppies began to bloom in the battlefields.  The only thing that could survive in the devastation, the poppies were able to bloom due to the fact that they are a plant that thrives on disturbed ground.  The seeds lie dormant until the soil is broken up, and then the flowers take root and begin to grow.

After writing the poem, it was submitted to newspapers in England.  It was rejected by The Spectator but published by Punch on 8 December 1915.  The poem was read by Moina Michael, an U.S. professor and humanitarian, who was so moved that she wrote the poem “We Shall Keep the Faith” in reply to McCrae’s poem:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

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,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
In Flanders Fields we fought.

According to the American Legion Auxiliary Poppy site, in November 1918 on an impulse, Moina Michael purchased all the poppies that New York City’s Wanamaker’s Department Store had in the store and handed them to businessmen meeting at the YMCA where she worked and asked them to wear the poppy as a tribute to the fallen.  The idea of selling silk poppies is credited to Michael as a way to raise funds to assist disabled veterans.  In 1921, the American Legion Auxiliary adopted the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans.

And now you know the story of the poppy.

Lest we forget.

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Join me on my genealogical journey where I hope my experiences, discoveries, mistakes, and successes will help you on your journey. We'll throw in some bits of history for a little flavor and that is what makes up Talking Box Genealogy.