Powerful Symbol of Rememberance

On November 11th, the symbol of the poppy signifies ”Remembering the Fallen” throughout the British Commonwealth countries and other Allied nations, though the analogies with Ukraine’s current scarred landscapes are inescapable, where the symbol of the sunflower abounds.

”The First Wold War took a greater human toll than any previous conflict, with some 8.5 million soldiers dead of battlefield injuries or disease.   
From the devastated landscape of the battlefields, the red poppy would grow and, thanks to a famous poem, become a powerful symbol of remembrance – “In Flanders Fields,” by Canadian-born John McCrae. 

McCrae got a firsthand look at the carnage of the Second Battle of Ypres in which the Germans unleashed lethal chlorine gas for the first time. Some 87,000 Allied soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing in the battle, as well as 37,000 Germans. 

Across the Atlantic, a woman named Moina Michael read “In Flanders Field” in the pages of Ladies’ Home Journal that November, just two days before the armistice. A professor at the University of Georgia, and inspired by McCrae’s verses, Michael wrote her own poem in response, which she called “We Shall Keep Faith.”

As a sign of this faith, and a remembrance of the sacrifices of Flanders Field, Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy; she found an initial batch of fabric blooms for herself and her colleagues at a department store. After the war ended, she came up with the idea of making and selling red silk poppies to raise money to support returning veterans.

Michael’s campaign to create a national symbol for remembrance didn’t get very far at first.
But in mid-1920, she managed to get Georgia’s branch of the American Legion, a veteran’s group, to adopt the poppy as its symbol. Soon after that, the National American Legion voted to use the poppy as the official U.S. national emblem of remembrance when its members convened in Cleveland in September 1920. And ever since, Americans celebrate Veterans Day, also on 11th November to show appreciation for all living military officials who service their country. 

On the opposite side of the Atlantic, a Frenchwoman named Anna Guérin had championed the symbolic power of the red poppy from the beginning. Invited to the American Legion convention to speak about her idea for an “Inter-Allied Poppy Day,” Madame Guérin helped convince the Legion members to adopt the poppy as their symbol, and to join her by celebrating National Poppy Day in the United States the following May.

Back in France, Guérin organized French women, children and veterans to make and sell artificial poppies as a way to fund the restoration of war-torn France. As Heather Johnson argues on her website devoted to Madame Guérin’s work, the Frenchwoman may have been the single most significant figure in spreading the symbol of the Remembrance poppy through the British Commonwealth countries and other Allied nations.

Within a year, Guérin brought her campaign to England, where in November 1921 the newly founded (Royal) British Legion held its first-ever “Poppy Appeal,” which sold millions of the silk flowers and raised over £106,000 (a hefty sum at the time) to go towards finding employment and housing for Great War veterans.
The following year, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory in Richmond, England, in which disabled servicemen were employed to make the fabric and paper blooms.”

See Flowers & the Meaning of Life
Flowers are a lens on human nature and our search for meaning. A metaphor for a mortal world suddenly fathoming its fragility and resilience.

Did you know the ‘2 minutes silence’ is a South African gift to the Act of Remembrance?
Many people do not know that the two minutes silence and its association to Armistice Day (11/11/11) or Remembrance Sunday has a South African origin.

Churchill’s prescient words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Acknowledgement: www.history.com/news/world-war-i-poppy-remembrance-symbol-veterans-day
Images courtesy of Liz Westby-Nunn: Hand crocheted poppies adorning North Ferriby church in East Riding, Yorkshire 

Comments are closed.