November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada, a day that’s very important to me personally, so my blog post today is about one of the ways our nation takes to recognize and thank those service members who have served their country on our behalf. Starting in mid-October, you’ll see the ubiquitous poppy pins on the lapels of people’s coats; I wanted to learn a little more about that tradition, and share it all with you.
In Flanders Fields
The poppy its self has been tightly linked to the wars since Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian army doctor, wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” to mark to passing of one of his close friends in action. The area where his friend (and so many others) was buried was covered in wild poppies that had begun to bloom. The sight inspired those now famous lines:
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 first published in “Punch” magazine in December 1915, and within months, it became a touchstone for the sacrifice of war and is still recognized around the world as a powerful tool of remembrance..
An act of remembrance
The poppy worn on the lapel became a public and personal act of remembrance when Moina Michael, a staff member of the American Overseas YMCA, wore it as such in 1917. She then led a campaign to have the American Legion recognize the poppy as the official symbol of remembrance, and was successful by April of 1920. The movement spread to Europe where it was picked up by Anne Guerin of France who, with her organization, the American and French Children’s League, sold cloth poppies to help raise money for rebuilding efforts after the way. The poppy was then adopted by both the British Legion and the early Canadian Legion in 1921. In Canada, the production of poppies was originally overseen by the Department of Soldiers Civil Reestablishment, which employed disabled soldiers.
Currently (since 1925, actually), the Canadian Legion has overseen the annual poppy campaign; making them available to all Canadians for a donation of any amount, starting on the last Friday of October and leading to November 11th each year. The money raised via the annual poppy campaign goes directly to benefit veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces (all branches) and the RCMP, and their family. The money goes into a trust, and is used to providing housing and care accommodations for veterans, to support veterans and their spouses if one of them is hospitalized, to fund community drop-in centres, meals-on-wheels programs and senior services in communities across the country, and to provide relief funds in areas of the country where the government has declared a state of emergency (like a forest fire or flood) if veterans are impacted. All these services are incredibly important, and provide much needed support to the men and woman who put their own lives on hold (and risked those lives) for Canada.
While the two week window in October/November is the most common time to see the poppy, the Legion is always accepting donations for their fund. If you have a few bucks to spare, why not consider making a donation to them at other times in the year? Or, if you’re an international reader, to the veteran support group in your home country? It would mean the world to the veterans and their families.
Tune in to our all new episode this Sunday, November 11th, where Andi and I talk all things military to mark this important day of the year.