Memories that stay with us. I watched my Dad purchase a poppy flower every year around Memorial Day and learned it was to remember the veterans. With his passing, I picked up the tradition. I attach the flower to my handbag every year, hoping it will last awhile, but I often wondered what the story was behind this tradition. After reading many stories of how this tradition began I’ve put together this timeline:In 1915 on the fields of Belgium, France, and Gallipoli during World War I, the poppy flower grew. The red flowers blanketed the battlefields and became synonymous with great loss of life in war. As Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae watch his fellow men, including friend Alexis Helmer, perish, he penned a poem called In Flanders Fields with the reference to red poppy flowers on the battlefield. This poem helped solidify the red poppy as an internationally recognized symbol of remembrance.
In 1918 Moina Michael was deeply moved while reading the poem. She decided to wear a poppy and gave out poppies to honor the veteran’s that had died. With the war ending, she campaigned to use this symbol to remember always.
It seems that Madame Guerin around 1921 was also pushing the red poppy as a Remembrance Flower in France. As a visitor to the United States VFW convention of 1923, Madame Guerin, founder of the American and French Children’s League, wanted to use the sale of the poppies for the orphans and widows of the war and campaigned in Europe.
With the incessant energy of these two women in the space of four years, the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand adopted what we now call the Remembrance Poppy, establishing a tradition that continues to this day.
In 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) started to sell the poppies. At a convention in 1923, the VFW voted to make the “Buddy Poppy” the official memorial flower. The program’s theme fit nicely with the mission of the VFW: “to honor the dead by helping the living.” Having difficulty finding enough flowers, they opened the Buddy Poppy factory in Pittsburgh, PA to have the flowers made by disabled veterans. Today, the making of the flowers is done in VA Hospitals. In 1924, the VFW received a patent for the name “Buddy Poppy” from the U.S. Patent Office. The money raised is kept locally for veterans’ services.
What started as one poem inspired a second poem, and over time grew to extend to stamps, memorials, and many books to honor veterans and those killed in war, as well as John McCrae, Moina Michael and Madame E Guerin.
In Flanders Fields
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915 during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium
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
We Shall Keep the Faith
By Moina Michael, November 1918
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.
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Contributed by: Joan Wagner, Chief Librarian, Bay Shore