Have you noticed people wearing the paper red poppies that veterans sell each Memorial Day?
This tradition can be traced back to Miss Moina Michael of Athens, Georgia. She had the inspiration on November 9, 1918 to make the red poppy (Papaver rhoeas) the symbol of remembrance for the sacrifices of fallen soldiers during World War I.
Her “Flanders Field Memorial Poppy Idea” was born after reading Colonel John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Field (also known as We Shall Not Sleep) in an issue of Ladies Home Journal*
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Field.
After reading this she pledged “To keep the faith” and to “always wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and the emblem of keeping the faith of all who died (Michael, p.47).”
At this time, Miss Michaels was working at the Y.M.C.A at Columbia University. A superior gave her a gift of money, which she then spent on twenty-five red poppies. Wearing one herself, she sold the rest to her colleagues. This is said to be the first selling of poppies to raise money for veterans.
In response to McCrae’s poem, she wrote We Shall Keep the Faith (also known as the Victory Emblem), which reads
And now the Torch and the Poppy red
We wear in honor of our dead
From that moment on, Miss Michael pledged to make the “Flanders Field Memorial Poppy Idea” universal. In fact, the red poppy was adopted as the memorial flower by the American Legion at the September 1920 convention in Cleveland.
Miss Michaels became widely known as “The Poppy Lady” and the selling of red poppies continues to raise money to aid veterans and their families. And it is not just the United States who honors its veterans with red poppies, but the British, who observe this tradition as well.
Michael, Moina. The miracle flower: the story of the Flanders Fields memorial poppy. Philadelphia, Dorrance and Company, c1941
Also see Defense.gov’s Little Red Flowers and Remembering Veterans
*This poem was first published anonymously in Punch, Dec 8 1915: 468.
Here in New Zealand we commemorate ANZAC day with the red poppy of Flanders Field.
And one verse from For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon is always quoted.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
Our ANZAC day is a day for remembering all the New Zealand and Australian men who have given their life in war.
This surely makes great sense!
That was a frankly good blog..
We wonder if Miss Michael was more moved on Nov. 9 1918 by the Philip Lyford painting of doughboys used in these Bauer & Black surgical supplies patriotic marketing ads calendars etc. than by McCrae’s words from the battlefield 1915, May 3 (2 years before her country entered WW1). The message so early in the war especially to Canadians back home was to send more men, to “take up the quarrel” to fight on to achieve victory over the enemy. Conscription yes or no was becoming a national issue.
Amongst the many “replies” people in various countries dashed off once IFF appeared in the UK, Punch 1915 Dec issue
is one by Canadian Edna Jaques. “Flanders Now” used at Arlington Cemetery 1921.
Here in Canada, we credit Mme Anna Guerin, wife of French judge, for bringing in poppy replicas as in the McCrae imagery, to be distributed through her network of charitable
supporters for war orphans of France. Everyone seems to have pitched in, Poppy Tag days, and in time the proceedes were shared for our emerging veterans’ needs, and Armistice Day and the Flanders poppy were indelibly linked with Great War Veterans’ appeal for Federal government backing. Apparently the US Legion reversed its support for the foreign poppy, preferring the daisy, being native to their untouched soil. Much competition for poppy money in the US according to old newspapers online and shift of date of commemoration. Canada’s tradition has remained firm and respectful – no true of some other Commonwealth countries..
Miss Michael must have lived in a real backwater that she’d never read ‘In Flanders Fields’ or the many ‘replies’ that were being published in American newspapers. But she must have read Lillard’s, printed in the New York Evening Post – her final verse is derived from his.