It is a bit early, but poppy sales begin tomorrow.
The 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month armistice was signed, ending the first world war. But why the poppy?
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.
by John McCrae, May 1915
This poem was written long ago by a Canadian Doctor who was serving during the first war, of a few wars to follow, “to end all wars”
Though this doesn’t explain how or why the poppy is now worn on Nov 11th. It is the start of the story.
Moina Michael read his poem, and made a pledge to wear the poppy in remembrance, to ‘keep the faith’
She was a teacher, this is what she had to say after reading his poem.
“I read the poem, which I had read many times previously, and studied its graphic picturization. The last verse transfixed me — ‘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’.
This was for me a full spiritual experience. It seemed as though the silent voices again were vocal, whispering, in sighs of anxiety unto anguish, ‘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’.
Alone, again, in a high moment of white resolve I pledged to KEEP THE FAITH and always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and the emblem of ‘keeping the faith with all who died’.
In hectic times as were those times, great emotional impacts may be obliterated by succeeding greater ones. So I felt impelled to make note of my pledge. I reached for a used yellow envelope, turned the blank side up and hastily scribbled my pledge to keep the faith with all who died.”
We Shall Keep the Faith
by Moina Michael, November 1918
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 honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
She became very active in trying to make the poppy the national memorial symbol, she wanted to raise awareness not just for those that were still sleeping under the poppies… but for those that were returning with mental, physical and spiritual needs. In 1920 the American Legion did just that.
It didn’t stop there Anna Guerin took up the cause. She felt the sale of poppies could benefit the French children orphaned by the war. She organized the orphans, women and war veterans to make poppies. This gradually spread, due to her energies, to many countries. November 11th became known as poppy day. A day to remember not just those that will never return, but also those that have.
So as you walk into stores over the next few weeks, and see those people standing out front selling poppies.. think of all the struggles that have gone on. To be able to sell those poppies, to remember those that gave so much. It is a tiny thing, the poppy, but it means a lot. When you put it on, think about that.
You won’t see field after field of poppies in France now,
though the flowers are scattered here and there.
Yet beneath the poppies rest our great uncles,
fathers, mothers and aunts….
sleeping forever so we are free.