Sunday, November 9, 2014


We are all too young to remember the First World War, which began 100 years ago in August  1914. An estimated 10 million lives were lost on those battlefields. Every year we mark their sacrifice on November 11, or Armistice day as it was first known, that day on November 11th. 1918 when the cease fire was announced. 10,000 men died or were wounded on that last day of the war.

The red poppy has long been associated with this day. It came as a surprise to me that an American lady was responsible for the idea of the poppy being the symbol of remembrance, which many wear on this day, because I never see I never see poppies being sold here or people wearing them.

Poppies grow all too easily in my garden as they do in the fields of Flanders, long immortalized in the poem, by Canadian physician John McCrae, In Flander's Fields. They can lie dormant in the soil for years and germinate when the soil is disturbed. McCrae wrote his poem after burying his friend, who died at the second battle of Ypres, and where the poppies that grew around the grave made a deep impression on him.

In 1918 an American school teacher, Miss Moina Michael, was a volunteer in the YMCA in New York, when she read McCrae's poem in the Ladies' Home Journal. Inspired by these final words of the poem

'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 Flander's fields'

and the photograph of ghostly soldiers and poppies, she responded by writing her own poem which included the following lines.

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.

When other volunteers read her poem, they collected $10, and Moina went out and bought 25 red silk poppies which she pinned on the office staff. When the war ended she campaigned the American Legion for the poppy to be the memorial emblem for American fallen soldiers. A French visitor to the convention determined that the commemorative poppy should not be confined to America. She went home to France and arranged for the making of the poppies by French war widows. 9 million poppies were ordered for the first Poppy Day to be held on November 11 1919. The tradition continues to this day.

 I remember well the selling of the poppies, by service veterans, every year. They were sold by modest donation. Today's poppies are simpler and made of paper.

There have been special observances this year to mark the Centenary year and they will continue until November 2018, the day the war ended.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. Outside the Tower of London, 888,246 ceramic poppies, representing the number of British who died in WW1, have been planted in ground.

The three photographs, shown here, were taken by Canadian friends who visited London in September. At that time not all the poppies had been added.

Photographs of the completed display can be seen  here Unfortunately copyright prevents me from adding these images to my blog.
I hope as the clock strikes 11 on this day you with think of those who lost their lives in wars everywhere.


  1. I never see red poppies being sold or worn nowadays here in the PNW, but when I was a child in Massachusetts, I saw them often. That display at the Tower of London is amazing.

  2. Years ago we traveled to Ypres and observed the daily remembrance of the lives lost there. The river of ceramic poppies are a stark reminder that the numbers from WWI are staggering.

    The little paper poppies are still sold in San Antonio by veterans and I usually purchase a few each year.

  3. I had the chance to see the Sea of Red poppies at the Tower of London in late August when I was on a layover in London. It was a haunting, overwhelming, and truly awesome site. It is saddening to think of all the lives lost, but I'm grateful to the artists who commemorate those lives in such beautiful ways.

  4. The display at the Tower of London is beautiful, although I prefer your real poppies to the silk and ceramic varieties.

  5. I remember the crepe paper poppies that looked like poppies not yet unfurled, sold when I was a child. I never dreamed back then that one day I would plant REAL red corn poppies. I'll celebrate Veteran's Day by scattering poppy seeds and remember their significance when they bloom next spring.

    1. I remember one year I threw out a little packet of wildflower seeds. A single red corn poppy came up. Now the garden is filled with them in the spring.

  6. Growing up in New England in the 1970's and 80's, I distinctly remember veterans in uniform taking up collections at the local supermarket and on Main St., and we were given red poppies in exchange for our donations. Poppies were also worn at our town's Veteran's Day parade. I do not know if this tradition continues, however.

    Because of the 100th anniversary, I have recently been reading more on WWI, although it's so upsetting - not only the war itself, but the politics leading up to it. My grandmother's cousin was part of the 27th regiment of NY Volunteers that was able to break the Hindenburg Line, leading to the end of the war. The regiment suffered more killed that day than any other regiment in American history, amongst them cousin Francis.

    1. So sorry to hear of your family loss. My grandfathers nephew was killed in the fist year of the war. He is remembered at one of the memorials in France as his body was never found.

  7. The war to end all wars. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

    The poppy display at the Tower, is a beautiful, but jarring visual reminder of those who died.
    The cost to one nation, in one war.

    When will we ever learn?

  8. Thank you for the history of this memorial. I too seem to remember seeing poppies being sold when I was younger but not in recent years, although that could be a trick of memory.

  9. Like Jean, I will be spreading red poppy seed with hopes for a display later in the year. Thank you for helping us all remember this significant event, Jenny. Historical, yes, but also deeply personal to hundreds of thousands of families who will always remember their loved ones lost. I still have the last little paper poppy I saw offered on sale (I haven't seen anybody with one for years) and I get it out every November.

  10. Here on our campus in Massachusetts one does see the paper poppies pinned to backpacks and lapels, but I suspect it is largely international students from Commonwealth countries that have them...

  11. That's a very moving display. Such a staggering loss of life.

  12. Wow what a great post. I did not know the story of the red poppy. Thank you! Tomorrow I will be with my 91 year old Father. He is a veteran of two wars. I will tell him thank you for his service. Thankfully he was not in WWII. His foot locker was sent but the war ended before he was to fly out. Thank goodness.

  13. The display was breathtaking and today, the volunteers started to dismantle the poppies getting them ready to distribute to those who have bought them (me being one of them). The wave and the poppies from the window will be going on tour around Britain and will eventually end up at the Imperial War Museum as their permanent home. To be there hearing an ancestor being read out and seeing this display was a huge memory maker.

    1. I'm sure it was an incredibly moving experience and one you will remember all your life. I try to share a post every year. Next year I may write about my grandfather's nephew who died in those fields. There is no family member but myself left to remember him.