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.”
LEST WE FORGET
"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