Today the red poppy is worn with special significance. Folklore says the red of the poppy springs from the blood of those killed. The truth is that the poppy has always been the first to bloom in Flanders’ fields. Even as the guns boomed throughout the Great War, the flower was a poignant reminder of life amid the bloody slaughter.
A Canadian military doctor John McCrae wrote the poem ‘In Flanders’ Fields’ while wrecked with anguish in 1915. Three years later he was dead from pneumonia, but he was made immortal by the wearing of the red poppy of his verse. The blossom was adopted after the war as a memorial to those who shall not sleep.
The 11th of November 1918 is Armistice Day, when Germany signed the armistice to end fighting in the First World War. Six weeks earlier Bulgaria had been the first to sign an armistice. Then the Ottomans, Austria, Hungary, and Germany last of all. The war didn’t formally end until the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Strangely though, the United States remained at war until 1920, and United Kingdom with most of the protagonists until 1920-1921 and Turkey as late as 1924.
The name of the day changed to Remembrance Day following the Second World War. However, 97 years on, the poppy’s significance remains unchanged, although now in many forms. Cloth, paper, and pins. We must never forget those who rest in Flanders’ fields, the cause for which they laid down their lives, nor the bond forged between all Allied nations and respect for France, our common battleground.
In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae, May 1915
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.