Something reminded me that Remembrance Day, also known as Poppy Day, was not too far away and for the first time ever I actually wondered what the history of this day nd its primary symbol, the poppy, was all about. Of course, with modern technology and the Internet, it didn't take too long to find out some details, and I decided to share this information with you.
Most people will know that Remembrance Day is a day on which people around the world stop to commemorate the lives of fallen soldiers of all wars. This much I knew as well, but there were quite a few things that I learned when researching Poppy Day. The most significant of which was how the poppy actually became the official symbol for this day in November.
But I also found some interesting facts about how and when this day was started and why people all over the world observe this day.
When Was Remembrance Day Born
November 11 is not some arbitrary day that was once chosen to remember those that had died in the battle fields. It was on November 11, 1918, at 11 am, that an end was put to the hostilities of World War I. On that morning the Armistice was signed and this marked the end of a very bloody and brutal war that cost the lives of millions.
In November 1919, King George V decided that every year a day should be dedicated to those soldiers that did not make it home from war and lost their lives in the line of duty. So, the first Remembrance Day was observed in Great Britain and other Commonwealth countries on November 11, 1919. Since then its importance, following and coverage in the media has greatly gained.
Sadly, this year's Remembrance Day will be the first one that will not be observed by any living World War I veteran, as the last surviving veteran, Florence Green, died earlier this year.
It is important to note that this day is not a day to celebrate war or battle, but rather to literally remember those that have died in the battle field. I think this is particularly noticeable when you see video footage of veterans, old and young, who attend official ceremonies. The tears you see on the faces of the men and women very much shows how the loss of fellow soldiers, family and friends has affected them.
Why Is It Important
I remember seeing a war memorial plaque a few years ago, with the inscription of "They gave up their tomorrow so that we could have today", and I think that very much sums up the sacrifices made. Whether you oppose any of the recent wars or not should not make any difference when it comes to honouring fallen soldiers as they are not the ones who make the decisions. They are the ones that risk something that is most precious to everyone.
For this very reason people of all political and social beliefs do observe Poppy Day, and at the same time put their differences aside. It is very rare that you will see reports of any objections or even protests against this day.
I also believe that it plays a crucial role in keeping the general public aware of the sacrifices made by soldiers any time they are sent to war. This keeps a certain amount of pressure on politicians to resort to war as a last possible action.
When And Why Did The Poppy Become A Symbol
Many countries around the world now refer to Remembrance Day simply as Poppy Day, but the two are very much synonymous. This led me to do some more research into how the poppy actually became a symbol.
You have to go as far back as the Napoleonic wars to encounter the first mentions in papers, where writers commented on the way red poppies would grow over the graves of fallen soldiers beside battles fields.
But the modern use of the poppy can be traced back to Lieutenant Colonel John McCrea. After the death of a close friend and fellow soldier during WWI he wrote a poem called "In Flanders Fields".
This now famous war poem from 1915 first mentions the poppy in the following way:
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,…"
The reason there were so many poppies growing was due to the heavy bombing of Flanders during the First World War. The scarred landscape was left with greatly increased lime content and because of this heavy lime concentration, one of the few plants that could thrive in those conditions was the poppy.
But how did we get from a war poem to such a widely recognised symbol?
This is where we have to turn our attention to Ms Moina Michael. The lady later to become known as Poppy Lady, was an American professor and humanitarian who conceived of the idea of wearing a poppy to honour the fallen soldiers of WWI. Around the time of the end of fighting during the Great War, Moina Michael came across McCrea's poem and was so touched by it that she decided to wear a poppy.
At the time she was working at a YMCA in New York where the Overseas War Secretaries' were headquartered during a conference. When she was given $10 for her hard working, she decided to go and buy silk poppies and handed them to the delegates that had given her the money. This was the first time that poppies were sold in remembrance of soldiers, and Ms Michael would go on to lobby for the poppy becoming an official symbol. But even before it was officially recognised thousands of silk poppies, made by French widows in New York, were being sold to help the suffering children in France.
By 1921 the poppy had been officially accepted and Moina Michael sent poppy sellers to the UK. To this day it is a tradition to buy a poppy on Remembrance Day with the proceeds going to helping injured soldiers.