A Short History of Remembrance Poppies
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, May 1915
Poppies have been the symbol of remembrance for those fallen on the fields of battle since Moina Belle Michael was deeply moved by the last verse of John McCrae’s poem. She vowed to always wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields on her lapel in memory of those who had died in WWI, and wrote this poem in response to McCrae’s.
We Shall Keep The Faith
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.
Moina Belle Michael
Moina wrote her poem on 9th November 1918 while working at the 25th Annual Conference of the YMCA War Secretaries’ Headquarters in New York.
Some of the delegates approached her and gave her a $10 donation in appreciation of the flowers she had used to brighten up the place. She showed them the poem she had written and vowed she would buy twenty-five red poppies with the donation, which she did later that day. On returning to duty, delegates at the conference taking place in the headquarters crowded around her, asking for poppies to wear. She gave out all but one of the poppies, which she wore herself.
Moina campaigned to get the red poppy adopted as the symbol for Remembrance for the fallen. However, it wasn’t until the 29th September 1920, that the National American Legion adopted the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
Anna Guerin, a French woman, was present at the National American Legion convention. She was inspired by Moina’s efforts, and saw how the poppy could be extended to raise funds for the needy.
Anna founded the American and French Children’s League, and she organised French women, children and war veterans to make cloth poppies to be sold, the proceeds of which could be used to help fund the restoration of the war ravaged regions of France.
In 1921, Anna either went herself or sent representatives to America, Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, to tell them about the poppy and the work of the American and French Children’s League.
Anna went in person to meet Field Marshal Earl Douglas Haig, founder and President of The British Legion. She persuaded him to adopt the Flanders Poppy as an emblem for The Legion. This was formalized in the autumn of 1921.
The first British Poppy Appeal occurred in 1921, in the run up to 11th November – the third anniversary of the Armistice of the Great War.
Since then, red poppies have been sold during October and early November to raise funds for the charitable causes of the Royal British Legion.
About my Remembrance Mandala
I chose green and red for the background to the white poppies.
Green represents the battlefields that so many lives were lost on, and so many more changed forever.
Red represents the blood spilled that soaked into the ground.
The black lines represent the death of so very, very many during the World Wars, and so many other wars and conflicts since.
Why have I not coloured the poppies red?
White peace poppies are warn by many. Not as a sign of disrespect, but as a sign of respect and a sign of hope for peace in the world, so that no more lives will be lost through war and conflict.
My white poppies are that wish for peace, but also tolerance, compassion and understanding. They are also a reminder of how the causes of past wars still haunt humanity today, of how hate-speech is on the rise, how societies have become divided in ways that are reminiscent of the times before WWII.
I have always hoped I would live in a world where peace reigned between all peoples, where there was enough for everyone, and everyone’s needs were catered for. I hope for a world described in John Lennon’s “Imagine”.
Yes, I know I’m a dreamer, an idealist. I’m also a realist and know it’s not likely in my lifetime. It doesn’t stop me dreaming and doing what little I can to help make the world a better place.
Before anyone complains or criticises me, my father was a veteran of WWII, Korea and Burma. He rarely spoke of his experiences; when he did, it was usually the humorous ones. Once, when he was drunk one New Year’s Eve, he mentioned he’d been at a concentration camp. When he realised what he’d said, he refused to speak any more and I will never forget the haunted, pained, deeply saddened look on his face that showed the ghosts of his past had risen up to torment him once again. I have the deepest respect for my father, for what he must have gone through, and for how he carried that pain with him through his life.
I have the greatest respect for all those who have served in the armed forces, for all they give to help to restore and maintain peace.
I do, however, wish there was no need of them; that all nations, all religions, all people could come together and work out how we can all live together in peace and find better ways to work out our differences rather than through threats, violence and hate-filled rhetoric.
There Will Be Peace
There will be peace:
when attitudes change;
when self-interest is seen as part of common interest;
when old wrongs, old scores, old mistakes
are deleted from the account;
when the aim becomes co-operation and mutual benefit
rather than revenge or seizing maximum personal or group gain;
when justice and equality before the law
become the basis of government;
when basic freedoms exist;
when leaders – political, religious, educational – and the police and media
wholeheartedly embrace the concepts of justice, equality, freedom, tolerance, and reconciliation as a basis for renewal;
when parents teach their children new ways to think about people.
There will be peace:
when enemies become fellow human beings.
David Roberts 1999.