Poppies—the Symbol of Remembrance
Symbolic flowers are important to American culture. Roses create memories of Valentines Day and your significant other. Lilies and poinsettas are important to the holidays of Easter and Christmas. Georgia has a state flower, the Cherokee Rose. To veterans, the bright red poppy serves as a symbol of remembrance.
Between 1914 and1918, 8.5 million soldiers died on the World War I battlefields of Europe. During the Spring of 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, an Allied brigade surgeon, noticed clusters of red poppies blooming on the destroyed battlefield of Ypres in northern Belgium (Flanders),where earlier that year 87,000 Allied soldiers and 37, 000 German soldiers had died. The red flowers were in contrast to the mud covering the bodies of the fallen soldiers. In late 1915, Punch magazine published a poem , “In Flanders Field,” written by Lt. Col. McCrae in the memory of his fallen comrades.
Two days before the 1918 armistice of WW I, Moina Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia, was inspired by McCrae’s poem to write a poem which she called “We Shall Keep Faith.” As a sign of remembrance of the veterans’ sacrifices, Michael vowed to wear a red fabric poppy and to make and sell the red silk poppies to raise money to support returning veterans. She designed a poppy in the colors of the Allied nations’ flags entwined around a victory torch. In 1920 she convinced Georgia’s branch of the American Legion to adopt the poppy (minus the torch) as its symbol. In September 1920, the National American Legion convention voted to use the poppy as the official U.S. national emblem of remembrance. At the same convention, a French woman named Madame Anna Guerin convinced the American Legion to accept her idea for an “Inter-Allied” Poppy Day and to join her by celebrating National Poppy Day the next May in the United States.
Within a year, Guerin campaigned her poppy plan in England where in November 1921, the (Royal) British Legion held its first-ever “ Poppy Appeal,” which raised over 106,000 pounds to assist location of employment and housing for WW I veterans. In 1922, a Poppy Factory was constructed in England which employed disabled servicemen to make the fabric and paper blooms. People in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Belgium, Australia, and New Zealand wear the red flowers on November 11 to commemorate the 1918 Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day. The English Poppy factory still produces over 45 million poppies each year.
In the United States, Americans do not wear poppies on Veterans Day (November 11) which celebrates living veterans. Instead they wear the symbolic flower on Memorial Day (last Monday in May), which commemorates the veterans who have given their lives in the service of their country. Let us remember our veterans on Memorial Day (Monday, May 26) by wearing the red poppy of remembrance.