In 20 minutes Lt-Col John McCrae, an Army doctor in May 1915, had written the following poem whilst war was raging and mingling with the wild red corn poppies that grew there, about his friends who had died around him:-
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, fell down, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
This immortal poem inspired the start of the corn poppy as the essence of remembrace of those who had died in the Great War and carries on today inspired by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper who arranged to install over 800,000 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London to mark the 100th Anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1 and the British soliers who died.
There are critics of this event but missed the point – it was not glorification of war but of sacrifice and humanity. The soldiers would never be forgotten, once they died, and their sacrifice would not be in vain. Lt-Col John McCrae died of influenza at Boulogne in January 1918 and to honour him, comrades searched for poppies to lay on his grave but it was the middle of winter and they found none. However they ordered artificial poppies woven by French widows into a wreath from Paris. It was the first of its kind and the start of a lasting remembrance tradition.
A bit later it was Miss Moina Michael, a middle-aged American schoolteacher, now almost forgotten, who was inspired to write her own tribute to Col. McCrae:-
We cherish too the poppy red
That grow on fields where valour led.
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never die.
Moina had ancestors in Flanders and felt that the poppy, as she put it, was her “spirit child.” – the red poppy of Flanders was “the secrificial blood of ten million men dying for the peace of the world.” Others became inspired by her and they collected money to buy poppies but there were no real ones so 25 silk ones were bought from a departmental store. She pinned one on her coat and she gave out the rest and thus this mighty tradition was born. She also encouaged the poppy to be adopted as the memorial emblem for the Americans who had died in France and persuaded the national conference of the American Legion to back her campaign.
At that time a well-connected French widow named Anna Guerin was inspired by what she heard and she promoted the wearing of the red poppy beyond America across all Allied nations. First of all Anna realised that there had to be a way of mass-producing simple poppies so she arranged war widows to make them and sold them to veteran associations around the world for the benefit of wouded soldiers and bereaved families.
She continued her inspirational promotional journey when she showed a sample of her poppies to the general secretary of the newly-formed British Legion in London. General Earl Haig was touched by them and soon nine million were ordered for the first Poppy Day to be held in London on 11th November 1921. People were just asked to make a donation. The poem of Col McCrae was printed with a pledge that “so long as our surviving warriors live, every effort must be made to keep them and their dependents from want.” There was some controversy over the origins of the poppy linked to a pagan flower from Greek Mythology – the opium plant to the corn poppy which of course is very different. No doubt there is still some confusion but now it was recognised as the flower of remembrance, “watered with the blood of soldiers,” a symbol that “neither poppies nor fallen soldiers would ever truly die.” This caught the imagination of the British public and with the support of Earl Haig the first appeal raised £106,000, the equivalent of about £4.5 million today.
All this continued to inspire all those involved – British war widows now making the poppies, 30 million poppies were ordered in 1922 and the proceeds were doubled over the previous year and poppy posters appeared all over the country. The Remembrance Poppy Day had now become firmly established for all time – a red badge of courage, sacrifice and grief.”
Source of Reference – Nicholas J Saunders for which may thanks.
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