THE RED POPPY

A History

Synonymous with War Memorials are the red poppies worn on Remembrance Day, Nov.11th ( originally known as Armistice Day ). The origin of the poppy tradition rests with three people, Major John McCrae* a Medical Officer with the 1st.Canadian Contingent at the battle of the Ypres salient in May 1915. Miss Moira Michael, Secretary of the American YMCA and Madam Guerin, Secretary French YMCA.

Apalled at the slaughter caused by the seventeen day Ypres battle Major McCrae wrote the following poem:

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.
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.

Published in the London magazine 'Punch' December,1915, it received wide publicity.

Miss Moira Bell Michael, a teacher,was so impressed with the poem she wrote the following:

"We Shall Keep The Faith"

Oh! You who sleep in Flanders’ fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew;
We caught the torch you threw;
And holding high we kept
The faith with those who died.
We cherish, too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valour 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
Wear in honour of our dead
Fear not that ye have died for naught
We’ve learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders’ Fields.

and made a decision to always wear a Flanders poppy "to keep the faith".

In November 1918 Madame Guerin attended a convention of YMCA Secretaries from the Allied Nations and met Miss Michael, greatly impressed with Miss Michael's idea of the Flanders poppy as a badge of remembrance she took the idea back to France from where it quickly spread amongst the Allies of WW1. In 1919 the newly formed British Legion adopted the Flanders Poppy as it's official badge of remembrance followed by the Australian RSL in 1921. In 1922 a factory for the manufacture of poppies for distribution in Britain and Northern Ireland was established in the Old Kent Road, London under the supervision of Major George Howson MC to provide employment for disabled soldiers. As demand increased larger premises were required so in 1925 a move was made to premises in Petersham Rd., Richmond, SW London where it remains to the present day. At one time the factory employed some 365 people producing 45 million poppies per annum; today, with improved production methods, 44 people are employed at the factory with another 90 home workers,only ex-Service persons or their relatives qualify for employment. Production for the 2006 ceremony will be
36 million poppies ( 650,000 buttonhole type)
105,000 wreaths
750,000 crosses
5 million petals
In addition to the above the factory also produces a special corsage of five poppies for the Queen to wear and wreaths for the Special Air Services Regiment, the SAS wreaths differ from the norm having a central plaque of the SAS badge surrounded by dark and light blue leaves interspersed with white carnations
"Worn to remember the nation's war dead, the red poppy is a widely recognised emblem. Millions of poppies were sold last year and the appeal raised 30m for the Royal British Legion's charitable work. But what is the etiquette of wearing one? 1. Should you wear one? The poppy commemorates those who have died in war. The tradition was started by American teacher Moina Bell Michael, who sold silk poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-service community. In 1920 the poppy was proclaimed the national emblem of remembrance in the US, and in the UK, the first poppy day was in 1921. Last year Britons bought 26m poppies, but others choose not to. Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow famously refuses to wear one on air, reportedly saying he does not want to bow to "poppy fascism" 2. What colour to wear - red, white or purple? Red is most popular, but the lesser-seen white poppy dates from 1933, when the Women's Co-operative Guild wanted a lasting symbol for peace and an end to all wars. But the Royal British Legion refused to be associated with their manufacture, and so the Co-operative Wholesale Society took on production. The intention was not to offend the memory of those who died in the Great War, but many veterans felt white poppies undermined their contribution and the lasting meaning of the red poppy. Feelings ran so high that some women lost their jobs in the 1930s for wearing white poppies. Critics argue the red poppy already encompasses the sentiments of white one, which they say also diverts funds for the Royal British Legion. Then there are purple poppies, worn to remember the animal victims of war and sold by animal charities. 3. When to start wearing one? Many people think poppies should be worn from 1 November until Armistice Day on 11 November. Others pin one on only in the week running up to Remembrance Sunday - 8 November this year. A Royal British Legion spokesman says they can be worn from the launch of the poppy appeal, which this year was 22 October. Organisations like the BBC usually choose a day for presenters to start wearing one. This year it was from 6am on 24 October. 4. Where to pin your poppy - left or right. Some people say left, as it's worn over the heart. It is also where military medals are worn. Others say only the Queen and Royal Family are allowed to wear a poppy on the right, which isn't true. Then there is the school of thought that says men should wear theirs on the left and women on the right, as is the traditional custom with a badge or brooch. The Royal British Legion spokesman says there is no right or wrong side "other than to wear it with pride". 5. What size should\b0 it be? The traditional poppy is roughly 7cm from red tip to the bottom of its green stalk and 4cm wide. But other sizes are worn."(extract from BBC Magazine Oct.2009)

"In adopting the Poppy of Flanders’ Fields as the Memorial Flower to be worn by all Returned Soldiers on the above mentioned day, we recognise that no emblem so well typifies the Fields whereon was fought the greatest war in the history of the world nor sanctifies so truly the last resting place of our brave dead who remain in France" excerpt from RSL declaration of 1921.

In spite of the sentiments expressed above the "Poppies" supplied by the WA RSL for sale to the public since 2003 do not replicate Flanders Poppies, having more in common with minature multi petalled roses

 

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* Col. John McCrae died of wounds in France, 1918

 

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