Tuesday, November 11, 2008



Poppies, the symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers, were very rare in Flanders prior to World War I.
However the anguished earth of Flanders flowed suddenly red with the blood coloured poppy ‘popaver rhoeas’ among the bodies of slain soldiers of World War I .

During the tremendous bombardments of the war the chalk soils of Flanders became very rich in lime from rubble, allowing ‘popaver rhoeas’ to thrive.

Then, when the fields lay quiet and the death and destruction was over, the earth stopped bleeding its red poppies for the dead. The disturbed lime had been quickly absorbed, and so the poppies had disappeared again.

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

This poem was written by a Canadian - John McCrae, a doctor and teacher, who served in WW1.

One of McCrae's closest friends was killed in the fighting and 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.

One of the things I find endearing about McCrae is that he sent his young nieces and nephews letters supposedly written by his horse Bonfire that he took to war and he signed those letters with a hoof print.

In part because of the poem's popularity, the poppy was adopted as the Flower of Remembrance for the war dead of Britain, France, the United States, Canada and other Commonwealth countries.

The Poppy Pin Designed for
The Royal Canadian Legion
Date: November, 1921

According to the Royal Canadian Legion, “The centre of the Lapel Poppy was originally black but was changed to green more than twenty years ago to represent the green fields of France. In 2002, the centre was changed back to black to reflect the actual colours of the Poppies in Flanders a red flower with a black centre. It is intended that the black centre will remain as the standard for the production of all future Poppy material.”


"Each November, millions of poppies blossom in Canada. They blossom on the jackets, dresses and hats of nearly half the Canadian population and they have blossomed over 80 years, since 1921. The poppy is the symbol that individuals use to show that they remember those who were killed in the wars and peacekeeping operations that Canada has been involved"

-The Royal Canadian Legion


joey said...

A lovely Remembrance Day post. I love this haunting poem!

West Coast Island Gardener said...

Joey thank you so much for your comment.

The quote by JFK you chose for your Rembrance Day post says so much:

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy


Anonymous said...

Beautiful and interesting post, Shauna.

West Coast Island Gardener said...

Thank you Nancy. Your photography today of the Poplars are beautiful.

My Mother's Garden said...

Hi Shauna~

This was a touching, beautiful and informative tribute. Those photos are really haunting.


VP said...

I'd wondered whether poppies were just used as a symbol here in Britain. Today you've answered my question!

Thanks for visiting over at my place yesterday, it was good to see you :)

West Coast Island Gardener said...

Karrita & VP

It is curious how a flower can reach beyond the garden and have such meaning to connect people to events and through time.

nefaeria said...

What a beautiful post! I especially love the story of the old war horse...I never heard that one before. And as always, great photos as well.

I find it interesting that Remembrance Day is on the day that Samhain would be before the Gregorian calendar was adopted.

No coincidence methinks. ;)


Weeping Sore said...

What a solemn and beautiful post. In the USA, we call it Veteran's Day, and we get preoccupied with the war du jour.
It's good to be reminded of how Armistice Day became a day for remembering, especially for self-obsessed Americans.
The magnitude of the WWI dead is difficult (for me, anyway) to comprehend. BBC TV news had a wonderful tribute, but the poem you reproduce is, to me, the essence of "not breaking faith" with those who died. Thank you.

compost in my shoe said...

Super history lesson! Thanks.

Philip Bewley said...

Thanks for sharing this. There are things here I had not known fully.
Best regards,

Blackswamp_Girl said...

What a great post... is that really true, that the poppies only bloomed there in profusion for a short time due to the lime? I never heard that before... I wonder how they got there. Wow...

Kanak Hagjer said...

A very interesting post, Shauna. Such a touching poem and along with your photos... a beautiful tribute.

Northern Shade said...

This is a touching tribute to Remembrance Day, its origins, and message.

Viooltje said...

Absolutely enjoyed your story and the poem. Even though our customs are a bit different, I very much prefer yours ... Sometimes it seems to me people are totally oblivious of what gratitude really means, if, in some strange fit of lucidity, they even manage to develop such feelings after all.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your dear ones (Zombies included)!

Steve said...

Hey, Shauna, thanks indeed for your incredibly thoughtful post. What a wonderful tale!

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Anonymous said...

who was the designer who created the rememberance structure with the helmet at the top and poppies dripping down the side please tell me soon.

West Coast Island Gardener said...

Hello Anon. I designed the Remembrance Sculpture. Why did you need to know?