As we remember them, where did the poppy come from?
This remembrance day, as we remember those who serve and who have served, here at Armadillo Merino®, we asked ourselves where the poppy came from. We know poppys are prevalent across Europe, and there is a link to WW1, but how did the poppy come to be used for remembrance services all over the world?
Where did the wearing of the poppy come from?
In May 1915, a Canadian Doctor LT COL John McCrae was inspired by the poppies to write the now famous in Flanders Fields. A little background around this time. In April 1915, John McCrae was in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in the area traditionally called Flanders.
On April 22, the Germans used deadly chlorine gas against Allied troops in a desperate attempt to break the stalemate. Despite the debilitating effects of the gas, Canadian soldiers fought relentlessly and held the line for another 16 days.
In the trenches, John McCrae treated hundreds of wounded soldiers every day. He was surrounded by the dead and the dying. In a letter to his mother, he wrote of the Battle of Ypres.
The general impression in my mind is of a nightmare. We have been in the most bitter of fights. For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds ..... And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.
(Prescott. In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae, p. 98)
The day before he wrote his famous poem, one of John McCrae's closest friends was killed in the fighting. He was buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross. Wild poppies were already beginning to bloom between the crosses marking the many graves. Unable to help his friend or any of the others who had died, John McCrae gave them a voice through his poem. It was the second last poem he was to write.
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.
How did it become the symbol of remembrance?
This now famous poem inspired Moina Michael to make and sell red silk poppies. Moina Michael was in Europe at the outbreak of WW1, and returned to the USA. In 1918, after the war, she taught a class of disabled servicemen at the University of Georgia. Realizing these servicemen needed both financial and occupational support, she developed the idea of selling silk poppies as a way of fund raising to assist disabled veterans.
In 1921, Field Marshall Earl Haig brought the idea to the UK as a way to raise funds for the British Legion Appeal Fund (later The Royal British Legion). In 1921 he ordered 9 million poppies from Anna Guerin, a French women who was making poppies to raise money for war orphans. This first fund raising in 1921 raised £106,000 (I todays money, inflation adjusted £1.3m).
Each year 150,000 volunteers sell in total about 45 million poppies continuing to raise money for servicemen.