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How Poppies Came to Symbolize Memorial Day

Poppy Remembrance Day Soldiers

How Poppies Came to Symbolize Memorial Day

World War I, fought from 1914-1918, saw the loss of more human lives than any other previous conflict. Over 8.5 million soldiers died from war injuries and disease.  The war also ravaged the landscape of Western Europe, where most of the battles were fought, taking lives and decimating the fields and forests. In the midst of this wasteland, red poppies began springing up through the battle-scarred soil.

 

In the spring of 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian who served as a surgeon for an Allied artillery unit, saw wild poppies in a nearby cemetery and noticed they had begun to appear in ditches and fields. He was moved by the sight of the bright blooms emerging from the broken land and wrote a poem, “In Flanders Field,” that spoke from the perspective of the fallen soldiers buried beneath the resilient poppies.

 

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

 

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 published in the British magazine, Punch, in late 1915, and was used in numerous memorial ceremonies, becoming one of the most famous written works to come out of World War I. In the U.S., Moina Michael read the poem in the Ladies’ Home Journal, just 2 days before the armistice.

 

Michael was a professor at the University of Georgia when the war broke out, and she had taken a leave of absence to volunteer at the New York headquarters of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), to train and sponsor workers overseas. She was deeply moved by McCrae’s poem, and in response, wrote her own poem called “We Shall Keep Faith.” Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy in memory of the sacrifices made at Flanders fields. After the war ended, she returned to Athens and came up with the idea of making and selling red silk poppies to raise money to support returning veterans. Here in America, we typically don’t wear poppies on Veterans Day, which honors all living veterans, but on Memorial Day, to honor the sacrifices so many men and women made, giving their lives fighting for our country.

 

Why Poppies?

 

The species of poppy in Flanders fields was Papaver rhoeas, (Common Poppy or Corn Poppy), a Mediterranean wildflower found across southern Europe. Poppy seeds can lie dormant for years, but can also quickly sprout when no competing vegetation is around, explaining why they appeared so abundantly on the embattled grounds.

 

Poppies appearing on battlegrounds dates back to Ghenghis Khan, where there are references to “blood-drenched fields…soon covered in the pure white blooms of the poppy” (another color variety), and is also referenced during the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century, where the red poppies that appeared were more directly linked to the blood shed from the dead and wounded soldiers.

 

Main Image Phot Credit: Kim McKenzie from Pixabay

 

Farmside employees volunteered their time to clean up the Wantage Township Veterans Memorial at Woodbourne park.

We are proud of our team’s commitment year after year to honor those who went before us and gave the ultimate sacrifice.

 

Wantage Township Veterans Memorial at Woodbourne Park - Farmside Landscape Volunteers 1

Wantage Township Veterans Memorial at Woodbourne Park - Farmside Landscape Volunteers 2

Wantage Township Veterans Memorial at Woodbourne Park - Farmside Landscape Volunteers 3

Wantage Township Veterans Memorial at Woodbourne Park - Farmside Landscape Volunteers 4

Wantage Township Veterans Memorial at Woodbourne Park - Farmside Landscape Volunteers 5