Remembrance Day and the Poppy

On a recent visit to the UK, we took a trip to the Tower of London to see the 888,246 ceramic poppies planted in the Tower’s moat, each poppy representing a British military fatality during the war. This made me wonder how the poppy became the international symbol of remembrance for the fallen of World War I.

It began on Saturday morning, 9th November 1918, two days before the Armistice was declared. Moina Michael was on duty at the YMCA headquarters in New York. This was a place where servicemen would gather with friends and family to say their goodbyes before they went on overseas duty. During the morning, a young soldier left a copy of the “Ladies Home Journal” on Moina’s desk. As Moina browsed through the magazine, she came across a poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. The words and images of beautiful red poppies among the death and destruction of the Western Front deeply moved her and she made a pledge to wear a red poppy as an emblem for keeping the faith with those who died.

During the day, some men attending a conference at the HQ asked Moina to accept $10 in appreciation of her effort to brighten the place with flowers at her own expense. She was touched, showed them the poem and said she would buy twenty-five red poppies with the money. The delegates took the poem back into the Conference. Moina found the small artificial red silk poppies in a department store and when she returned to the YMCA she gave the poppies to the delegates and kept one for herself.  According to Moina, since this group had given her the money with which to buy them, she considered that she had made her first sale of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy on 9th November 1918.

Moina Michael was determined to put all her energy towards getting the Poppy adopted as a national memorial symbol in the United States and began a tireless campaign at her own expense, starting with a letter to her congressional representative in which she asked him to put the idea to the War Department, which he did. She wanted to act quickly so that this new emblem might be ready for the signing of the peace treaty at Versailles in June 1919.

In March 1919, Moina moved back to her home state of Georgia.  She taught a class of disabled servicemen and learnt first-hand about their needs. She realised that while the memory of those who died needed to be honoured there were thousands of ex-servicemen who were returning home with mental and physical needs that also needed support. This gave her the impetus to widen the scope of the Memorial Poppy idea to assist all servicemen who needed help for themselves and their families.

By 1920, Moina Michael was beginning to lose hope that the Memorial Poppy idea would ever come to fruition. However, in August 1920 she learned that the Georgia Department of the American Legion was to meet in Atlanta. Before the convention, she approached the delegates and subsequently the Legion adopted the Memorial Poppy and agreed to have their members wear a red poppy on 11th November. A month later, the National American Legion agreed on the use of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy as the United States’ national emblem of Remembrance.

A french woman Anna Guérin attended the National American Legion’s convention and was inspired by Moina’s idea. When she returned to France, Anna got a team of French women to make artificial poppies, her intention was that these could be sold and the proceeds could be used to help fund the restoration of the war-torn regions of France. Anna was determined to introduce the idea of the memorial poppy to the nations that had been Allied with France during the First World War.

In 1921, Anna Guérin first introduced the British Legion in London to the Memorial Poppy and the first British Poppy Day Appeal was launched that year, in the run up to 11th November 1921.  Since that time, the red poppy has been sold each year by The British Legion from mid October to raise funds in support of the organisation’s charitable work.

In 1922, the Poppy Factory was established in the Old Kent Road, London. In 1933, the demand for poppies was such that the Poppy Factory had to move to larger premises in Surrey. The demand for poppies continued to grow each year and today the Poppy Factory is producing nearly 40 million poppies for wreaths, sprays and buttonholes.

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4 Responses to Remembrance Day and the Poppy

  1. missmoonpoppie says:

    The poem is beautiful – I have it framed … I used to live in a house in the middle of nowhere in de “westhoek” about 7 km from Diksmuide. (we had to go there for everything, there was not a single shop, bakery,…near der. And we had no neighbours – just some farms in the distance) named “Klein Stuivekens” Just after us there was a memorial for the Great War – every year with the “Four Days of the Yser march” (Vierdaagse van de Ijzer – all solders do that march through the whole battlefield” in Flanders fields” among them a huge amount of other people remembering all those who died there. They lay wreaths of poppies, play the last post and greet on every important place they pass – p/e the Menenpoort in Ypres, the Yzer tower in Diksmuide, and also on the memorial (Mariahoekje) just near us. It’s very impressive…..Thousands and thousands of soldiers and ordinary people who march at least 50km four days in a row. The house we lived in was already there in 1800 – it was the only house that “survived” the war. It was a little pub where the soldiers – if they where lucky enough to get there – could get a drink and dry there clothes. When we did something in the huge garden, like planting something – every time we found shells, unexploded bombs, a helmet of a Belgian soldier who was still intact …..Farmers there plowing the land around were also constant, everywhere you saw a bunch of lying – DOVO – the bomb squad came almost every day langs. They have their depot nearby and still have hands short to dismantle all the war stuff that comes out of the ground every day.
    But to return to the poppies….they grow and bloom all summer long over there, along the small country roads, in the verges, bright red delicate flowers so beautiful … As the blood of the thousands and thousands and thousands soldiers who lost their lives there – red …..
    Yet it has always been my favourite flower – even though you can not pick them to put in a vase, because then they will immediately die.

    In our living room hangs a beautiful painting on the wall that I inherited from my godmother (my aunt). But in that house …. you got it even on the hottest summer day cold and shivers as you walked in there, and not I alone, everyone wanted to get out there as fast as possible. If whether all the pain, misery, horror of the war was trapped there… I and the children could not be gone soon enough….
    In Flanders fields the poppies grow
    between the crosses-row on row…….

    • missmoonpoppie says:

      Just look at my nickname here …. 🙂 xxx

    • ceejayblue says:

      Agree with Meryl, what a lovely story. We often forget in this country that we were in foreign fields where the locals also faced the horror of the war and that they helped the allied soldiers (in both wars). I wear my poppy with pride in memory of all those who died or were injured in all the wars and also remember the civilians and animals who also gave so much. xxx

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