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Friday, November 11, 2016

The history of the poppy

The hidden history of the poppy

How a First World War poem about poppies blossomed into an annual Remembrance Day campaign raising $14 million each year to assist veterans.

Amid the blasting bombs, lifeless bodies, and muddy trenches of the Great War, bright red poppies flourished in Flanders Fields, Belgium. This sight inspired a poem that moved the British Empire. Now, each Remembrance Day, many people wear the blood-red flower (albeit artificial ones) to honour those who died at war. Here’s how the poppy became an enduring symbol.
Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae was serving as medical officer in Belgium when he wrote “In Flanders Fields.” A friend had just died from wounds sustained on the battlefield, and, in May 1915, as he awaited the wounded from nearby Ypres, he drew inspiration from the blood-red poppies that grew in the region. London magazine Punch published McCrae’s work in December 1915 and it quickly became one of the most popular war poems.
Two days before the Armistice, American humanitarian and academic Moina Michael read McCrae’s poem while on duty at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries headquarters in New York. Servicemen would go there to say goodbye to family and friends before heading overseas. Inspired by McCrae’s poem, Michael wrote her own called, “We Shall Keep the Faith,” in which she vows to wear the poppy to remember the war dead: “And now the torch and poppy red, we wear in honor of our dead.”

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