The origin of the red poppy as a Remembrance symbol stems back to something that happened during WWI!
In many countries this past week, an older man or woman would be seen quietly standing at the entrance to shops, banks and restaurants, holding a small tin in front of them and wearing a red poppy pinned on their collar. Usually, there is a small sign telling you why they are standing there. These people are collecting money for the war veterans in different groups. People who put money into the tin are given a poppy to pin to their collar, showing the world that they care and will always remember that countless people died in the wars, fighting for our freedom.
The symbolism of the red poppy worn on Remembrance Day was started after a poem written by a World War I brigade surgeon made the news around the world. This man’s name was Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. He was a Canadian who served for an Allied artillery unit.
After a terrible battle where there were many injuries and a lot of death, this man saw a cluster of bright red poppies growing in the field where the battle took place. The battle was the “Second Battle of Ypres” where 87,000 Allied soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing. Some 37,000 German soldiers also suffered the same fate.
There were different names given to this awful war: World War I, First World War, the Great War, the European War, the War to end all wars (sadly, this was not the case as there was a Second World War).
The Great War was fought from 1914 to 1918 and took a terrible toll on humans who suffered, not just from being killed or wounded, but also from diseases that ran rife through the battlefield because of the rain, mud, cold, starvation, rats and general ghastly conditions.
During WWI throughout Northern France and Flanders in Northern Belgium, battles took place that blew up whole forests, fields and people. But in springtime, many gorgeous red poppies began peeking through the battle-scarred land. Also called the Flanders poppy, corn poppy, red poppy and corn rose, they were known as weeds.
The surgeon was tending to the wounded in a filed in Flanders, and was so moved by the sight of the bright red blooms that he was moved to write a poem. This poem was published in a popular magazine of those days called Punch Magazine.
The poem’s fame spread across the Atlantic to America and was published in the Ladies’ Home Journal just two days before the armistice/the end of the war. As a sign of faith and a remembrance of the sacrifices of the men in Flanders Field, the person who published the poem said she would ALWAYS wear a red poppy on November 11.
After the war ended, she came up with the idea of making and selling red silk poppies to raise money to support returning veterans. The National American Legion voted to use the poppy as the official U.S. national emblem of remembrance in 1920.
A Frenchwoman invited to the American Legion convention had the idea to make November 11 “Inter-Allied Poppy Day”. In France, women, children and veterans made and sold artificial poppies as a way to fund the restoration of war-torn France.
In November 1921, British Legion held its first-ever “Poppy Appeal” and sold millions of the silk flowers and raised a lot of money which went toward finding employment and housing for Great War veterans. A factory was built where disabled servicemen were employed to make the fabric and paper flowers.
This remembrance still continues today and in England, the red silk poppies as well as crosses are “planted” in the grounds of castles and fields, and sold to people who donate to the cause.
In many places, it is not only the humans that are remembered, but the horses and other animals taken into battle.
[The poppy should be worn on the left side (over your heart); the red represents the blood of all those who gave their lives, the black centre represents the mourning of those who didn't have their loved ones return home, and the green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much. The leaf should be positioned at 11 o'clock to represent the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the time that World War I formally ended.]
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae died from pneumonia and meningitis, before the end of the World War I, January 1918.