How the Poppy Became a WWI Remembrance Symbol

How the Poppy Became a WWI Remembrance Symbol

From 1914 to 1918, World War I took a greater human toll than any previous conflict, with some 8.5 million soldiers dead of battlefield injuries or disease. The Great War, as it was then known, also ravaged the landscape of Western Europe, where most of the fiercest fighting took place. From the devastated landscape of the battlefields, the red poppy would grow and, thanks to a famous poem, become a powerful symbol of remembrance.

Across northern France and Flanders (northern Belgium), the brutal clashes between Allied and Central Powers soldiers tore up fields and forests, tearing up trees and plants and wreaking havoc on the soil beneath. But in the warm early spring of 1915, bright red flowers began peeking through the battle-scarred land: Papaver rhoeas, known variously as the Flanders poppy, corn poppy, red poppy and corn rose. As Chris McNab, author of “The Book of the Poppy,” wrote in an excerpt published in the Independent, the brilliantly colored flower is actually classified as a weed, which makes sense given its tenacious nature.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian who served as a brigade surgeon for an Allied artillery unit, spotted a cluster of poppies that spring, shortly after the Second Battle of Ypres. McCrae tended to the wounded and got a firsthand look at the carnage of that clash, in which the Germans unleashed lethal chlorine gas for the first time in the war. Some 87,000 Allied soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing in the battle (as well as 37,000 on the German side); a friend of McCrae’s, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was among the dead.

Struck by the sight of bright red blooms on broken ground, McCrae wrote a poem, “In Flanders Field,” in which he channeled the voice of the fallen soldiers buried under those hardy poppies. Published in Punch magazine in late 1915, the poem would be used at countless memorial ceremonies, and became one of the most famous works of art to emerge from the Great War. Its fame had spread far and wide by the time McCrae himself died, from pneumonia and meningitis, in January 1918.

READ MORE: How World War I Changed Literature

Across the Atlantic, a woman named Moina Michael read “In Flanders Field” in the pages of Ladies’ Home Journal that November, just two days before the armistice. A professor at the University of Georgia at the time the war broke out, Michael had taken a leave of absence to volunteer at the New York headquarters of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), which trained and sponsored workers overseas. Inspired by McCrae’s verses, Michael wrote her own poem in response, which she called “We Shall Keep Faith.”

As a sign of this faith, and a remembrance of the sacrifices of Flanders Field, Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy; she found an initial batch of fabric blooms for herself and her colleagues at a department store. After the war ended, she returned to the university town of Athens, and came up with the idea of making and selling red silk poppies to raise money to support returning veterans.

Michael’s campaign to create a national symbol for remembrance—a poppy in the colors of the Allied nations’ flags entwined around a victory torch—didn’t get very far at first. But in mid-1920, she managed to get Georgia’s branch of the American Legion, a veteran’s group, to adopt the poppy (minus the torch) as its symbol. Soon after that, the National American Legion voted to use the poppy as the official U.S. national emblem of remembrance when its members convened in Cleveland in September 1920.

On the opposite side of the Atlantic, a Frenchwoman named Anna Guérin had championed the symbolic power of the red poppy from the beginning. Invited to the American Legion convention to speak about her idea for an “Inter-Allied Poppy Day,” Madame Guérin helped convince the Legion members to adopt the poppy as their symbol, and to join her by celebrating National Poppy Day in the United States the following May.

Back in France, Guérin organized French women, children and veterans to make and sell artificial poppies as a way to fund the restoration of war-torn France. As Heather Johnson argues on her website devoted to Madame Guérin’s work, the Frenchwoman may have been the single most significant figure in spreading the symbol of the Remembrance poppy through the British Commonwealth countries and other Allied nations.

Within a year, Guérin brought her campaign to England, where in November 1921 the newly founded (Royal) British Legion held its first-ever “Poppy Appeal,” which sold millions of the silk flowers and raised over £106,000 (a hefty sum at the time) to go towards finding employment and housing for Great War veterans. The following year, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory in Richmond, England, in which disabled servicemen were employed to make the fabric and paper blooms.

READ MORE: The Last Official Death of WWI Was a Man Who Sought Redemption

Other nations soon followed suit in adopting the poppy as their official symbol of remembrance. Today, nearly a century after World War I ended, millions of people in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand don the red flowers every November 11 (known as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day) to commemorate the anniversary of the 1918 armistice. According to McNab, the Poppy Factory (now located in Richmond, England and Edinburgh, Scotland) is still the center of poppy production, churning out as many as 45 million poppies made of various materials each year.

In the United States, the tradition has developed a little differently. Americans don’t typically wear poppies on November 11 (Veterans Day), which honors all living veterans. Instead, they wear the symbolic red flower on Memorial Day—the last Monday in May—to commemorate the sacrifice of so many men and women who have given their lives fighting for their country.

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

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 the Poppy Came to Symbolize World War I

A century ago, “the war to end all wars” raged throughout Europe—a war that racked up nearly 38 million casualties, including upwards ofو.5 million deaths. More than 900,000 of the dead were British soldiers, and since 2014, 100 years after the war began, thousands of people in the U.K. have seen a huge field of red ceramic poppies, the symbol of war remembrance throughout the Commonwealth, pop up around well-known landmarks like the Tower of London.

The installation is called Poppies: Weeping Window, and it’s now on view in Wales at the Caernarfon Castle. The evocative work began touring the U.K. last July. Created by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, the display started out as part of an exhibition at the Tower of London and grew in size and scale as huge numbers of visitors—an estimated five million in all—came to see the bloody beauty of hundreds of thousands of red poppies pouring out of a window, each honoring a British or Colonial serviceman who died during the war. Since then, the exhibition, which was initially planned to be temporary, has been preserved and is touring the rest of the nation in two parts, Weeping Window and Wave. As the BBC reports, the exhibition’s current stop has already drawn thousands of visitors.

But why poppies? The answer is half biology, half history. The common or “corn” poppy, also known as Papaver rhoeas, grows throughout the United States, Asia, Africa and Europe and is native to the Mediterranean region. Its seeds need light to grow, so when they're buried in the earth, they can lay dormant for㻐 years or even longer by some accounts, without blooming. Once soil is disturbed and the seeds come to light, poppies nobody knew existed can then bloom. 

During World War I, this beautiful phenomenon took place in a Europe decimated by the first truly modern war. In Belgium, which was home to part of the Western Front in its Flanders provinces, the soil was torn up by miles of trenches and pocked by bombs and artillery fire. The Battles of Ypres, which took part in a portion of Flanders known as Flanders Fields, were particularly deadly and took a toll on the physical environment, too. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, many of them British, breathed their last on soil laid bare and churned up by the mechanics of war.

After the Second Battle of Ypres, a Canadian doctor named John McCrae noticed red poppies growing near one of Flanders' Fields' mass cemeteries. He wrote a poem, “In Flanders Fields,” in 1915, which was eventually published in Britain. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow,” wrote McCrae, “Between the crosses, row on row.” It went on to become the war’s most popular and most recognized poem in the United States and Great Britain.

The poem, which muses on the existence of poppies in a cemetery and encourages people to take up the torch in honor of their fallen countrymen, became a powerful recruiting tool for the Allies. (Lines from the poem and red poppies even appeared on the back of the Canadian $10 bill for a time.) Red poppies began to appear not just on posters encouraging people to sign up for the army or to buy war bonds, but in ceremonies honoring the war dead. 

As the BBC reports, an American woman named Moina Michael read McCrae’s poem and vowed to wear a red poppy every day until she died. She began to distribute silk poppies and her work led women from Allied nations to sell artificial poppies to raise funds for war victims after the war. A symbol had been born—one that persists to this day. Today, people throughout the Commonwealth wear paper poppies on Remembrance Sunday, a day that commemorates the dead of both World War I and World War II. But not everybody prefers poppies: As The Week reports, some people see the symbol as glorifying war and use white poppies to show their objection to war.


Fundraising

In 1922, the VFW adopted the Buddy Poppy as their official memorial flower and have distributed them across the United States since 1923. Then, as today, the VFW Buddy Poppy is assembled by disabled and needy veterans.

Questions for students

  • Why do you think something generally considered pretty was chosen to represent something so brutal and devastating?

Want to get involved? Consider raising money for your organization while contributing to the creation of a National WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C. by selling poppy seed packets.

You can also support veterans, service programs, and the VFW National Home for Children with Buddy Poppies.


How The Poppy Became The Symbol Of World War I

The story behind these ubiquitous flowers is fascinating.

Have you noticed the red poppy pins members of the British royal family often wear on their lapels? What’s up with that? Prince Harry’s fiance, Meghan Markle, was recently seen sporting one during her first Anzac Day service on April 25, a day set aside to commemorate the first major battle involving Australian and New Zealand forces during World War One.

Well, it turns out there’s a reason the royals wear this specific accessory — the red ceramic poppy has apparently become a symbol of remembrance for those who died in the war.

The poppy’s association with World War I is believed to have both historical and biological roots. Poppies need light to grow, and can lay dormant for 80 years or more when buried in the earth and not exposed to sunlight. But when that soil is disturbed and the seeds become exposed to the sun, the poppies bloom, surprising those who didn’t realize that seeds had been buried there.

That’s exactly what happened throughout Europe in the wake of World War I, when the soil was disturbed by trenches, bombs and artillery fire. Flanders Fields, in particular, was the site of the gruesome Battle of Ypres, and Canadian doctor John McCrae took note of the poppies that appeared there. In fact, seeing them inspired him to write a poem in 1915, titled “In Flanders Fields.” The moving poem observes how the poppies sprang up as a symbol of hope in the place where so many lost their lives:

“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.”

Wearing poppies to commemorate the sacrifices soldiers made in the war has now been a tradition for more than 100 years for people across the world, including in the United Kingdom, Canada, France and Belgium, particularly on Armistice Day on Nov. 11. In the United States, poppies are typically worn on Memorial Day, which honors those who have died while serving in the U.S. armed forces.

In 1922, Major George Hewson, a British army officer, established the Poppy Factory in Richmond, England, which today employs about 30 disabled veterans. They make the poppies and wreaths for the royal family and the Royal British Union Legion’s annual Poppy Appeal.

In 2014, artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper created an installation made of more than 888,246 ceramic red poppies, “Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red,” to mark the centenary of the outbreak of WWI. Each poppy represented a British or Colonial life lost in the war. Originally staged by Historic Royal Palaces at HM Tower of London, the installation was visited by more than 5 million people.

Through December 2018, two sculptures made from those poppies, “Wave” and “Weeping Window” are on tour at locations throughout the UK as part of 14-18 NOW:

Poppies from the installation were also sold and have been taken all over the world, and a digital map of where the poppies have ended up, with accompanying stories of the significance of each poppy to its owner, has been created through Where Are The Poppies Now.


Thank you!

It wasn’t until later that the poppies arrived in the U.K., the country most associated with their symbolism today.

In 1920, Anna Guérin, a member of the French branch of the YWCA, saw the poppies selling well at the American Legion convention in Cleveland. She realized that selling fabric poppies on a large scale was a practical way to fund charitable projects, particularly in Europe, where much of the population was still dealing with the economic and physical consequences of war.

Guérin traveled the world for her mission, persuading leaders in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Britain to adopt the flowers as a symbol of remembrance. They took off particularly well in Britain, where an initial order by the Royal British Legion of 9 million poppies rapidly sold out on Nov. 11, 1921. That first “poppy appeal” raised £106,000, the equivalent of roughly $6 million today.

Nov. 11 had already become a day of remembrance in the U.K. in 1919, with many Brits observing a minute’s silence at the exact moment the war had ended the year before: the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh month. Poppies were quickly incorporated into the celebration, which eventually became a day of remembrance for those who died in all of Britain’s wars. It is normally celebrated on the closest Sunday to Nov. 11 (the two coincide in 2018).

In 1922, Major George Howson founded the Disabled Society &ndash soon renamed the Poppy Factory &ndash to employ wounded and disabled veterans to make the poppies. Around 30 veterans are still employed in the factory in Richmond, southern England. The charity also supports ex-servicemen in their employment around the country.


How Poppies Became a Symbol of Remembrance After World War I

This Sunday — Nov. 11, 2018 — marks one hundred years since the signing of the armistice agreement that ended fighting in the First World War. World leaders will host events in Britain, France, Canada and beyond to commemorate the centennial and those that died in the war, holding parades, laying wreaths and keeping minutes of silence. But for many people, remembrance takes a more simple form: the poppy.

The story of how the poppy ended up on millions of lapels begins in the fields where the war was fought.

The conflict began in 1914 when a dispute between Serbia and Austria-Hungary pulled in their respective allies in Russia and Germany, collapsing the fragile peace between Europe’s great powers. As Britain and France got involved on Russia’s side, much of the fighting moved to the war’s western fronts in France and Belgium.

Vast swathes of once pristine countryside were trampled by soldiers and scorched by their weapons, leaving a muddy and seemingly barren mess. But poppies, which grow when their seeds are exposed to sunlight through disturbances to soil, managed to bloom.

In 1915, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, a 22-year-old officer in the Canadian army, was killed in Belgium by an exploding shell. His friend Major John McCrae, a brigadier surgeon, was inspired by Helmer’s death to write the now famous poem In Flanders Fields, originally titled We Shall Not Sleep. Published in a London magazine in December of 1915, it proved extremely popular, with its three short stanzas glorifying the war dead, beginning with an invocation of the image of those flowers:

Three years later and two days before the armistice agreement was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, an American professor named Moina Michael came across the poem while volunteering at the New York headquarters of the Young Women’s Christian Association. She had the idea to wear a poppy as “an emblem of ‘keeping the faith with all who died,'” she recalled in her 1941 autobiography, The Miracle Flower. She went to Wanamaker’s department store and bought “two dozen small silk red four-petaled poppies,” which she gave to her coworkers before making more to sell.

It wasn’t until later that the poppies arrived in the U.K., the country most associated with their symbolism today.

In 1920, Anna Guérin, a member of the French branch of the YWCA, saw the poppies selling well at the American Legion convention in Cleveland. She realized that selling fabric poppies on a large scale was a practical way to fund charitable projects, particularly in Europe, where much of the population was still dealing with the economic and physical consequences of war.

Guérin traveled the world for her mission, persuading leaders in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Britain to adopt the flowers as a symbol of remembrance. They took off particularly well in Britain, where an initial order by the Royal British Legion of 9 million poppies rapidly sold out on Nov. 11, 1921. That first “poppy appeal” raised £106,000, the equivalent of roughly $6 million today.

Nov. 11 had already become a day of remembrance in the U.K. in 1919, with many Brits observing a minute’s silence at the exact moment the war had ended the year before: the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh month. Poppies were quickly incorporated into the celebration, which eventually became a day of remembrance for those who died in all of Britain’s wars. It is normally celebrated on the closest Sunday to Nov. 11 (the two coincide in 2018).

In 1922, Major George Howson founded the Disabled Society – soon renamed the Poppy Factory – to employ wounded and disabled veterans to make the poppies. Around 30 veterans are still employed in the factory in Richmond, southern England. The charity also supports ex-servicemen in their employment around the country.


The Poppies and the Great War: How these Flowers Became the Symbol of WWI

As Remembrance Sunday neared, poppies, the flowers that came to symbolize the fallen of the Great War, once again doted the lapels of many in Britain, Canada, Australia, US and other countries. But how did these flowers came into that status?

The Beginning

Poppies grew abundantly in the fields of France and Belgium, the same lands where the front lines of the Great War were located. This may be the reason why Canadian poet John McCrae used poppy imagery in his short but famous poem about the futility of war, In Flanders Field.

However, the wearing of poppy pins as a symbol of remembering the fallen started in the US. American professor Moina Michael was so inspired by McCrae’s short verse that she penned a piece of her own in response to it in 1918. It was entitled We Shall Keep the Faith. She, then, arrived with the idea of wearing poppy flower pins as a way of remembering the soldiers of WWI as she taught disabled servicemen.

She brought her idea with her in a conference in Paris, France in 1920 even going as far as distributing some poppy pins to other delegates. Anna Guérin, a Frenchwoman and one of the delegates, copied her idea and made poppy pins of her own which she sold in London in 1921. That same year, the Royal British Legion founder and British Expeditionary Force commander in the First World War, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, adopted the symbol.

Canada, New Zealand, Australia and even the US followed Haig’s adoption of the flower and so, the lowly poppy became the official symbol of those who feel in the Great War.

The poppy pins produced then on were used to raise monetary funds for soldiers and their families.

The ‘Red Sea’ in the Tower of London’s Moat

This year, in commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, artist Paul Cummins along with his team has filled the moat surrounding the Tower of London with ceramic poppies. In all, he and his team made 888,246 ceramic versions of the flower, one for each British serviceman who died during the Great War. The installation, officially named Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, has attracted a large crowd ever since it was started.

Nevertheless, it isn’t without criticisms.

Just this month, the Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones censured the project as something ‘inward looking’ — overseeing and remembering only the dead within the British country while ignoring those who fell from the other nations involved in the Great War. Jones even posed a question of why not also commemorating the dead of Germany.

White Poppies and the Great War

Red poppies aren’t the only ones used during Remembrance Day. Some lapels bear white poppies as well. The latter is worn in favor of a pacifist view about wars — it commemorates the dead but objects battling in general. But their use oftentimes spark anger. Some people, including Margaret Thatcher, see hem as a disrespect to those who fell during the war.

The Women’s Guild, a cooperative in Britain, was the one to invent the white poppies way back in 1933. They are currently sold by the Peace Pledge Union.


The History and Significance of the Poppy

At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Britain falls silent for two minutes to commemorate Armistice Day and to remember those who have served our country and fought for our freedom since the beginning of the First World War. The poppy has become the international, defining symbol of the respect we pay to our fallen soldiers, and in the centenary year of the end of World War One it is ever more important to understand why the poppy has grown to be so significant.

The History of the Poppy

The history of the poppy as a symbol of war and remembrance traces back over 200 years, when the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19 th century left the French land desolate and destroyed. Throughout western Europe, Scarlet Corn Poppies (Popaver Rhoeas) grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth, and soon enough this bare land transformed into fields of blood-red poppies, growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers.

In 1914, with the eruption of World War One, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were destroyed once again. At the end of the conflict, one of the only plants to grow back over the barren land was the poppy. It was as a result of this war that the red flower gained its reputation as the international symbol of remembrance and charity.

The poppy as this new and profound symbol was brought to light in the Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields, written on 3 rd May 1915 following the death and burial of his friend and brother in arms, Alexis Helmer, killed in the Second Battle of Ypres. McCrae noticed the way in which the poppies bloomed around the graves, prompting him to write the touching poem from the viewpoint of the dead soldiers. He passed away in 1918 from Meningitis, but his poetry lives on to this day. The first stanza of In Flanders Fields reads:

‘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.’

Although we associate poppy popularity with British charity, it is in fact an American, Moina Michael, who is credited with the first charitable poppy sale. When Michael, who worked in the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries Office in New York, read McCrae’s poem in 1918 she was touched, and using her hard-earned money, she bought twenty-five silk poppies and distributed them to colleagues. Two years later, her efforts turned the poppy into a national symbol of remembrance recognised by the National American Legion.

Credit: US Post Office Department/Bobdatty/WikiCommons

Michael’s tradition soon crossed the Atlantic. When French citizen, Madam E. Guerin, visited America to attend an American Legion Conference, she saw the sale of poppies as a great way to raise money for the children affected by the Great War back home in France. On her return, she gathered together a group of French widows to make and sell paper poppies. Sales took off and soon totalled one million by 1921.

As a result of the poppy’s success in France, in 1921 Guerin sent a delegation of poppy sellers to London, the response was just as she hoped. Field Marshall Douglas Haig, a founder of the Royal British Legion and a veteran commander of the British Forces during the war, was enthused by the idea. Almost immediately, The Royal British Legion adopted the flower as the symbol for their campaign and the Poppy Appeal was born, raising money to aid those who have served and are serving in the British Armed Forces. The first ever annual poppy day occurred in Britain on 11 th November 1921, marking the third anniversary of Armistice Day. Nine million poppies sold out, raising £106,000 to help World War One veterans with employment and housing.

In 1921, Canada and Australia adopted the poppy as a national symbol of remembrance, and New Zealand followed in 1922.

At this point, the poppies were still made in France, so in 1922, Major George Howsen opened a poppy factory in Bermondsey, London. He employed five disabled ex-military personnel to produce poppies all year round ready for the distribution in the upcoming weeks to Remembrance Sunday.

Today, the Royal British Legion aims to raise £25 million from the annual poppy sale. The poppies are made by 50 ex-servicemen in a factory in Richmond, Surrey, and a further three million poppies are sent to over 120 different countries across the globe annually.

The poppy is not just a symbol of memory and remembrance, but a physical object providing financial support and stability for those affected by war, in the 100 years from the end of the First World War.

Credit: Pixabay

Alternatives to the Red Poppy

The White Poppy was introduced by the Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1933 as a lasting symbol for pacifism and an end to all wars. The Royal British Legion did not associate itself with this campaign, however, seeing it as detrimental to the red poppy appeal, undermining the sacrifice made by military personnel. The White Poppy Appeal is now run by the Peace Pledge Union.

The Purple Poppy was introduced by the charity ‘Animal Aid’ to commemorate animal victims of war across the globe.


THE RED POPPY

In 1915, at a Canadian dressing station north of Ypres on the Essex Farm, an exhausted physician named Lt. Col. John McCrae would take in the view of the poppy strewn Salient and experience a moment of artistic inspiration. The veteran of the South African War was able to distill in a single vision the vitality of the red poppy symbol, his respect for the sacrifice made by his patients and dead comrades, and his intense feeling of obligation to them. McCrae would capture all of this in the most famous single poem of the First World War, In Flanders Fields .

John McCrae
The doctor's work achieved immediate universal popularity which was subsequently reinforced by his own death in 1918 from pneumonia and meningitis. He was buried in a military cemetery near Calais on the English Channel, thus becoming one with those of whom he wrote in his famous poem. Probably by the time of his internment, John McCrae's verse had forever bound the image of the Red Poppy to the memory of the Great War. The poppy was eventually adopted by the British and Canadian Legions as the symbol of remembrance of World War One and a means of raising funds for disabled veterans. An American war volunteer, Moina Michael, helped establish the symbol in the US where the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion also embraced the Red Poppy tradition.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among 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 yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Len Shurtleff, President of the WFA-USA was very generous with advice for this article. Recommended for further reading are:


In Flanders Fields -- The Story of John McCrae , John F. Prescott, 1985.

In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae , Granfield and Wilson, A Doubleday Book for Young Readers, 1995. [Source of the images above.]

Visit the one of the best online articles on the Poppy Tradition: Wear a Poppy and Honor the Dead by Capt. Shemal Fernando.


The Frenchwoman behind the Remembrance Day poppy

Millions of people across the world wear poppies in November to remember those who died in war – and it was a French woman who primarily developed the idea.

Anna A Guérin (1878-1961) was a lecturer and humanitarian who started using poppies to symbolise remembrance as a result of her work as leader of the ‘American and French Children’s League,’ the US branch of a French charity set up to help French women, children and veterans devastated by the World War One.

The charity's emblem was a poppy, which had become a popular symbol to represent the heroes of the war due to its portrayal in the poem ‘In Flanders Fields,’ by Canadian soldier John McCrae in 1915, written following the burial of a friend killed in the Battle of Ypres.

Mrs Guérin started selling handmade poppy ‘boutonnières’ (lapel decorations) at fundraising events for the charity which was established in 1918.

Around the same time, American academic Moina Michaels also began campaigning for the poppy to be adopted as a symbol of remembrance in the US after also being inspired by McCrae’s poem.

At a meeting for the American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries organisation Mrs Michaels wore a poppy pinned to her coat to symbolise her remembrance of those who had died in the war. She gave handmade poppies for other volunteers to wear and campaigned to have the poppy established as the national symbol of remembrance in America.

In 1919 the poppy became more widely worn when Mrs Guérin proposed the idea of using the flower as a fundraising tool to the association the Gold Star Mothers of Baltimore.

The proposal was accepted and plans were made for Mrs Guérin to sell poppy pins to raise 1million francs for children affected by the war in France. She made a silk sample of the poppy and had 10,000 replicas made to be sold at fundraiser days throughout America.

In 1920, the National American Legion agreed to adopt the poppy as its emblem after Mrs Guérin was invited to speak about her idea to hold an ‘inter-allied poppy day’. This day was held on May 28, 1921, and was the first official poppy day.

Veteran groups in Commonwealth countries across the world swiftly followed the example and began to use the symbol to raise money for veterans.
British amateur historian Heather Johnson has spent the last five years studying the life of Anna Guérin.

She said: “She saw the potential of the poppy emblem to help her belle France and those who had survived the First World War, alongside the remembrance of those who had lost their lives in it.

“What singles her out if the fact that her dynamic personality drove forward the campaign. Where she led, so many others followed.

“The more I discovered about her, the more bewitched I became. I continue to be motivated in my research because I know now what people knew about her during the First World War, from the years 1919 to 1921 and in some countries beyond that.

“Her work has been overlooked and others have received the credit due to her. This is my raison d’être – I do wonder how this happened! My family also suffered, as most did, with losses in the Great War.”

In 1921 Mrs Guérin met the founder of the Royal British Legion, Earl Haig, and persuaded him to adopt the poppy as an emblem for the Legion in the UK. The Legion, which had been formed the same year, ordered nine million poppies and sold them in November for Armistice Day.

The appeal raised more than £106,000 which went towards helping veterans with housing and employment. After the success of the appeal, former army office Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory in 1922 to employ disabled ex-servicemen to make the poppies.

Today 40,000 volunteers distribute as many as 40 million poppies every year in the UK, some of which are still made in the Poppy Factory.

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