The poppy is the symbol of remembrance (and this should be explained explicitly to FIFA who helped install a WW1 memorial at Plugstreet to the Christmas Truce football match – what are they thinking?).
Originally linked with the Great War, it has since become a symbol that allows us to remember our fallen armed servicemen who fell in many other wars and conflicts from World War Two to present day Iraq. But how did the Poppy come to be this symbol of remembrance that we wear with pride every 11th of November to commemorate the Armistice of the First World War?
During the First World War much of the fighting took place on Western Europe and particularly in the Flanders region of Belgium and France. The beautiful countryside was turned into a muddy lunar landscape where little or nothing grew apart from a hardy bright red wild flower know as the Poppy or to give it its full title ‘Papaver rhoea’.
In 1915, this flower inspired a Canadian Doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, to write an inspirational poem after the death of his close friend Alex Helmer. While sitting on the back of an ambulance at Essex Farm, a dressing station at Boesinghe on the outskirts of Ypres where he was the serving doctor, he noticed how poppies grew between the crosses marking the graves in the adjoining cemetery. So inspired was he by this that he took out his note book and wrote the now famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ which was published later that year in Punch magazine.
In 1918, the poem inspired American academic, Moina Michael, to write a poem of her own called ‘We Shall Keep The Faith’ in which she used the phrase ‘And now the Torch and Poppy Red, we wear in honor of our dead’. In tribute to McCrae’s poem, Moina Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance to those who fought and died in the Great War. In November 1918 at the ‘YWCA Overseas War Secretaries’ Conference, Michael appeared with such a poppy pinned to her coat. She had also made and distributed 25 more poppies to others attending the conference. In 1920, the National American Legion adopted the poppy as their official symbol of remembrance. At the same time a French woman called Anna Guérin began to make artificial poppies like the ones we wear today and in 1921 she sent women to London to sell them.
In 1921 the Royal British Legion was founded and placed an order for nine million poppies which it sold on the 11thNovember that year. This was the first ever ‘Poppy Appeal’ and raised over £106,000 which was used to help World War One veterans.
The following year the Poppy Factory was set up by Major George Howson. The factory employed disabled ex-servicemen and, to this day, the British Legion’s warehouse in Aylesford produces millions of poppies. However, the demand for poppies in England was so high, very few reached Scotland and so in 1926 Earl Haig’s wife established the ‘Lady Haig Poppy Factory’ in Edinburgh. This produced poppies exclusively for Scotland. The Scottish poppy design is slightly different in that it has four petals and no leaf unlike its English counterpart. Over five million poppies are made in Scotland by disabled ex-servicemen and are distributed by the British Legion’s sister charity Poppyscotland.
Other flowers are also used as symbols of remembrance by other countries. The French use the blue Cornflower and is sold around Armistice time (11th November) as in the UK. Germany also has a flower of remembrance and that is the white Forget Me Not.
So this 11thNovember, wear your poppy with pride and remember the fallen.
Lest We Forget