In Flanders Fields

Against all odds the poppy, the first plant to spring up in the morass of the Great War battlefields, thrived bringing life, colour and hope to those still fighting.

That inspired Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae to write on 3 May 1915 what is now one of the most quoted war poems, ‘In Flanders Fields’, first published later that year, on 8 December, in the magazine Punch.

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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.

His words led eventually to the poppy being recognised as a symbol of remembrance to this day.

An American lady, Moina Michael, first championed the wearing of a poppy in remembrance in 1918. After reading John McCrae’s poem in a journal she wrote her own verses in response, promising always ‘We shall keep the faith’ with those who had died.

Oh! You who sleep in Flanders Fields
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the Poppy Red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

After years of campaigning, by 1921 the poppy had become the United States’ national symbol of Remembrance and the emblem for The Royal British Legion, which held its first Poppy Day on 11 November that year, selling red silk poppies and donating the proceeds to ex-servicemen in need of welfare and financial support.

Poppy Day has continued each year since and now tens of millions of paper poppies are made every year. Every donation helps our armed forces community to live on.

 

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