November 11, 2000

Poppies


November 11 is Remembrance Day in Canada; Veteran's Day in the US; and is similarly commemorated in other countries because November 11 was the day that World War I ended in 1918.

I wrote a Remembrance Day entry last year but since I consider this day a bit more important than Halloween, I think it deserves annual mention and I consider this a continuation of last year's entry.

As far back as I can remember, people have worn poppy pins for the two or three weeks preceding Remembrance Day as a symbol honouring fallen soldiers. This isn't strictly a Canadian thing but it's observed pretty faithfully here. Poppies are sold (actually, exchanged for donations) in public places (malls, subway stations) by uniformed volunteers of the Royal Canadian Legion, a nationwide veterans' and community service organization.

Politicians wear them; newscasters wear them on the air; my father wears his proudly and so do I. They're simple pins, made of red and green felt-like material, with a plain bent pin through the middle.

scan of my poppy pin

Why a poppy? Those flowers grew wild in the battlefields of Belgium and France and quickly overgrew the soldiers' graves. Although it had been noted before, the effect was best memorialized in the poem, In Flanders Fields (see below), written by John McCrae, a Canadian Medical Officer in World War I.

A brief account of the story of the poppy and the significance of the associated fund raising effort can be found on the Legion website.

The CBC put together an informative site too, including reporters' sound clips recorded during World War II, and a section on symbols of remembrance, including of course the poppy.

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 amidst 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.

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