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a symbol of remembrance

The Red Poppy

The Red Poppy a story about the symbol of a field poppy that brought beauty among the battefields.

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Engravings Copyright © 1985 Dover Publications All Rights Reserved.


“In Flanders Fields”

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.

Lieutenant Colonel — John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

This is the story of how the red field poppy came to be known as an internationally recognized symbol of war remembrance.


Between the crosses, row on row,


From its association with poppies flowering in the spring of 1915 on the battlefields of Belgium, France and Gallipoli this vivid red flower has become synonymous with

great loss of life in war.


That mark our place; and in the sky


James McConnell was an American pilot who had volunteered to fight in the war and was flying with the French Escadrille Lafayette. He recorded a vivid description of the destroyed landscape below him as he flew over the 1916 battlefield of Verdun. He describes the front line as a

“brown belt, a strip of murdered Nature...�

“…Immediately east and north of Verdun there lies a broad, brown band… Peaceful fields and farms and villages adorned that landscape a few months ago — when there was no Battle of Verdun. Now there is only that sinister brown belt, a strip of murdered Nature. It seems to belong to another world. Every sign of humanity has been swept away. The woods and roads have vanished like chalk wiped from a blackboard; of the villages nothing remains but gray smears where stone walls have tumbled together…On the brown band the indentations are so closely interlocked that they blend into a confused mass of troubled earth…

Of the trenches only broken, half-obliterated links are visible.”


The larks, still bravely singing, fly


However, sometimes the sights and sounds of nature could be seen and heard through the fog of battle. Soldiers spoke of how birds, and most particularly the lark, could be heard twittering high in the sky even during the fury of an artillery bombardment, and against the odds, new life did also occasionally come into being in the battle zones.


Scarce heard amid the guns below.


The spring of 1915 was the first time that warm weather began to warm up the countryside after the cold winter at war in 1914–1915. One of the plants that began to grow in clusters on and around the battle zones was the red poppy. It is often to be found in or on the edges of fields where grain is grown. If the ground is disturbed from the early spring the seeds will germinate and the poppy flowers will grow. This is what happened in parts of the front lines in Belgium and France. Once the ground was disturbed by the fighting, the poppy seeds lying in the ground began to germinate and grow during the warm weather in the spring and summer months of 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918.

The sight of these delicate, vibrant red flowers growing on the shattered ground caught the attention of a Canadian soldier by the name of John McCrae. He noticed how they had sprung up in the disturbed ground of the burials around the artillery position he was in. It was during the warm days of early May 1915 when he found himself with his artillery brigade near to the Ypres-Yser canal.



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.

Spreading the Message of the Poppy


Take up our quarrel with the foe:


French Poppies Sold in America

Madame Guérin, “the French Poppy Lady,” made arrangements for the first nationwide distribution across America of poppies made in France by the American and French Childrens’ League. The funds raised from this venture went directly to the League to help with rehabilitation and resettlement of the areas of France devastated by the First World War. Millions of these French-made artificial poppies were sold in America between 1920 and 1924.


To you from failing hands we throw



Canada adopts the Flower of Remembrance

Madame Anna GuĂŠrin travelled to Canada, where she met with representatives of the Great War Veterans Association of Canada. This organization later became the Royal Canadian Legion. The Great War Veterans Association adopted the poppy as its national flower of Remembrance on 5th July 1921.


The torch; be yours to hold it high.


November 11th


The First British Legion Poppy Day Appeal In 1921 Anna GuĂŠrin sent some French women to London to sell their artificial red poppies. This was the first introduction to the British people of Moina Michael's idea of the Memorial Poppy. Madame GuĂŠrin went in person to visit Field Marshal Earl Douglas Haig, founder and President of The British Legion. She persuaded him to adopt the Flanders Poppy as an emblem for The Legion. This was formalized in the autumn of 1921. The first British Poppy Day Appeal was launched that year, in the run up to the 11th of November in 1921. It was the third anniversary of the Armistice to end the Great War. Proceeds from the sale of artificial French-made poppies were given to ex-servicemen in need of welfare and financial support. Since that time the red poppy has been sold each year by The British Legion from mid October to to raise funds in support of the organization's charitable work.


If ye break faith with us who die


The First Poppy Day in New Zealand

In September 1921, a representative from Madame GuĂŠrin visited the New Zealand veterans' association, called the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association (NZRSA) at that time. This organization had been established in 1916 by returning wounded veterans. With the aim of distributing poppies in advance of the anniversary of Armistice Day on 11th November that year, the NZRSA placed an order for 350,000 small and 16,000 large French-made poppies from the French and American Childrens' League. Unfortunately the delivery of the poppies did not arrive in time to organize and publicize the first nationwide poppy campaign, the Association decided to hold the first Poppy Day on 24th April, the day before ANZAC Day, in the following year. The first Poppy Day in New Zealand in 1922 raised funds of over ÂŁ13,000. A proportion of this was sent to the French and American Childrens' League and the remainder was used by the Association for support and welfare of returned soldiers in New Zealand.


We shall not sleep, though poppies grow


French made Poppies Sold in the United States

In 1922 the organization of the American and French Childrens' League was disbanded. Madam GuĂŠrin was still keen to raise funds for the French people who had suffered the destruction of their communities. She asked the American organization called Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to help her with the distribution of her French-made poppies throughout the United States. That year the VFW assisted with the sale of the poppies in America to help keep up the much needed funds for the battle-scarred areas of France. The poppies were sold before Memorial Day which was observed at that time on 30th May. This was the first time that a United States war veterans' organization took on the task of selling the red poppy as a symbol of Remembrance and as a means of fund raising. The VFW decided to adopt the poppy as its own official memorial flower.


In Flanders fields.


In 1923, the American Legion sold poppies in the United States which were made by a French company.



Nowadays poppies still bloom on the old 1914–1918 battlefields of northern France and Belgium. However, visitors expecting to see fields of poppies will quite likely be disappointed. The idea of fields full of poppies is possibly a misconstrued image from the lines of John McCrae's poem "In Flanders fields the poppies blow". More likely the line refers to clusters of poppies growing in the fields and especially around the graves in the disturbed ground of the poem. Due to the nature of farming today the poppies blooming in the battlefield areas do tend to be found in small clusters rather than in whole fields.

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