The Origin of the Red Poppy.

Written by AHQ

12 November 2014

Thanks to Gail who, with very little notice from me, wrote this explanation of the Poppy for us.

How did the Poppy become known for Remembrance?

We are all familiar with the red poppy long associated with Remembrance Day, and, in more recent times, Anzac Day. Many of us, however, may not know the story of how this simple flower came to be internationally recognised as a symbol of Remembrance.

The field poppy is an annual wild plant which has grown in many parts of Europe, including France, Belgium and Gallipoli, for generations. It flowers between May and August and its seeds, which are dispersed by the wind, can lie dormant in the ground for a long time. When the ground is disturbed by ploughing in the spring, the seeds germinate and the poppy flowers grow.

Winters in parts of Europe can be bitterly cold, as was the case in the early years of the Great War of 1914-18. Soldiers from both sides had to endure miserable conditions in the trenches which provided some protection from the enemy and less protection from the weather. The ground was muddy from rain and snow, while exploding shells created a mass of craters which distorted the landscape even further.

When the warmer weather of spring arrived on the Western Front in 1915, the poppy seeds germinated as usual in the soil disturbed not by farming but by fighting. The vibrant red flowers stood out in the devastated brown landscape.

In early May of that year, a Canadian soldier, John McCrae, noticed the poppies blooming amongst some recent burials. He was inspired to write the 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.
The poem was subsequently published. 

On 9 November 1918, two days before the Armistice was declared, an American woman, Moina Michael, read McCrae’s poem and was so moved by it that she decided then to always wear a red Flanders poppy to “keep the faith” and remember those who had died.

She campaigned for the poppy to be accepted as a national symbol of remembrance, but had limited success. She widened the scope of her idea, believing it could be used to help all servicemen who needed assistance in any way for themselves and their families.

Finally, in the early 1920s, success came when several organisations associated with returned servicemen adopted the red poppy. Artificial poppies, made in France by women, children and returned veterans, were sold in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand to raise funds for the rehabilitation of the war-torn regions of France, and for the support of returned soldiers in each of the countries selling the poppies. 
These days, each of the participating countries supplies and sells the poppies for the benefit of its own returned servicemen and women.
Sources  (1) (2) (3)

Thanks very much Gail.

Till next time……………keep spreading the word and happy stitching!

Jan-Maree xx

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1 Comment

  1. Sue Niven

    Thank you for this information. A really good read.


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