Why have poppies become the flower of Veterans, Remembrance and Memorial Day?
An enduring tradition began in WWI, after John McCrae composed the following classic work ...
To this day, McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" remains one of the most memorable war poems ever written. It a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient of France that occurred in the spring of 1915. The story behind its drafting is sobering. As a surgeon holding the rank of Major attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, McCrae spent seventeen terrible days treating injured men -- Canadians, British, Indians, French and Germans --- in a long trial of bloodshed, screams, horror and brutal suffering.
One death in particular touched him. A young friend and former classroom student, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, was killed by a shellburst on 2 May 1915. Lieutenant Helmer was buried in a small cemetery outside McCrae's dressing station, and McCrae had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of a chaplain.
The following day, sitting on the back of an ambulance beside the Canal de l'Yser, McCrae vented his deep anguish by penning a poem. From where he perched, McCrae could view wild poppies that sprang up from ditches in that part of Europe. He spent twenty minutes of precious rest time scribbling fifteen lines of verse in a field notebook.
Those words came close to never being seen publicly. Dissatisfied with his composition, McCrae tossed the work away. It was actually a fellow officer who came across the discarded piece and, moved by what he read, forwarded it on to newspapers in England. Rejected by one publisher, "In Flanders Field" eventually ran in London's "Punch Magazine" on 8 December 1915. It gained wide recognition from there, and by 1918, McCrae's poem was known throughout the allied world.
In America, a woman by the name of Moina Michael drafted her own poetic words in fitting follow-up ...
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
Moina Michael fashioned the custom of wearing a red poppy in memory of war's sacrifices, and established it as a symbol of keeping faith. A French women, Madam Guerin, learned of this practice while visiting the United States, and took the symbolism further and abroad. Upon her return to Europe, Guerin began creating hand-made poppies that were sold to raise money for benefit of orphaned children and destitute women in war-torn France. The tradition spread to Canada, the United States and Australia. It has endured until today and has become closely associated with days of ceremonial recognition and observance that honor fighting forces in these countries.