Have you seen them? Veterans dispensing poppies in public places near Memorial Day?
I have … but it’s been … years and years and years. The last time I remember seeing poppies handed out was years ago at a grocery store. I was just a child.
Sad, how some of our cherished traditions falter for lack of understanding and remembrance. My grandparents always happily pinned those poppies. I was probably told the significance of the tradition, but the memory escaped adulthood.
The following poem was penned by World War I Colonel John McCrae, a surgeon with Canada’s First Brigade Artillery. It expressed McCrae’s grief over the “row on row” of soldier’s graves who had died on Flanders’ battlefields, located in a region of western Belgium and northern France. The poem presented a striking image of the bright red flowers blooming among the rows of white crosses… and became a rallying cry to all who fought in the First World War.
The first printed version of the poem was reportedly in December 1915 in the British magazine Punch.
McCrae’s poem had a huge impact on two women, Anna E. Guerin of France and Georgia native Moina Michael. Both worked hard to initiate the sale of artificial poppies to help orphans and others left destitute by the war. By the time Guerin established the first sale in the U.S. in 1920, with the help of The American Legion, the poppy was well known in the allied countries — America, Britain, France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — as the “Flower of Remembrance.”
Proceeds from that first sale went to the American and French Children’s League.
In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae
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.