Memorial Day Poppies
For many Americans, the first Memorial Day symbols that come to mind are flags and gravestones. This week we’re going to celebrate the red poppy as a symbol for remembering veterans – and also a beautiful and meaningful bouquet for your mantel.
World War One
World War I was one of history’s bloodiest battles. Eleven million military personnel and seven million civilians lost their lives. But despite the horrors of the bloodied European battlefields, the warm spring of 1915 brought new life. As farmers ploughed fields close to the front line, they disturbed dormant poppy seeds, causing them to germinate. The battlefields in Belgium, France and on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula sprang to life with red field poppies.
A Famous Poem
One of the most famous poems to come out of the First World War is attributed to Canadian soldier John McCrae. After McCrae lost a friend and fellow soldier, he penned these opening lines to the poem that would become known as “In Flanders Fields”:
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.
McCrae succumbed to pneumonia in 1918, without ever knowing the lasting effect his poem would have on people around the world.
The Poppy becomes a Symbol
Only months after McCrae’s death, American patriot Moina Belle Michael came across a copy of the poem in “Ladies Home Journal.” She worked at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ headquarters in New York, and found the poem while working in the Y’s reading room. McCrae’s poem so deeply moved her that she later described reading it as a spiritual experience. She wrote her own poem in reply, and pledged to always wear a red poppy as a gesture of remembrance.
Michael immediately went out and bought two dozen red silk poppies. She kept one for her own buttonhole and passed the others out to delegates of the Twenty-fifth Conference of the Overseas YMCA War Secretaries, which was going on at that time. The initial response to her symbol of remembrance was so enthusiastic that Michael poured her energy into getting the poppy officially adopted as a national emblem. She wrote her congressman and urged him to put this idea forth to the War Department.
Michael struggled for a couple of years to stir public interest in her campaign. In 1920, the Georgia Convention of American Legion endorsed her symbol, urging all members to wear a red remembrance poppy annually on November 11.
An International Movement
Poppy fever caught on in other countries, too. A French woman named Anna Guérin realized that making artificial poppies would be a good way for French children orphaned by the war to raise money. She organized French children, women and war vets in a poppy-making venture. Guérin also introduced the remembrance poppy to allied nations, such as Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In 1921, the American and French Children’s’ League, founded by Guérin, sent a million artificial poppies to Australia. Proceeds benefited charities for children and veterans.
Poppies are still a symbol of remembrance around the world. However, Americans traditionally honor their war dead with poppies on Memorial Day, while Veterans Day is the favored poppy day in Canada, Australia and the UK.
Poppies on Your Mantel
A Memorial Day poppy bouquet on your mantel is a meaningful yet chic way to honor veterans and beautify your home at the same time. To all of you who served in our country’s defense, we at Old World Stoneworks salute you. We wish you a peaceful Memorial Day.