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Armistice Day and The Forgotten Symbolism of the Poppy

Commemorating Veterans' Day with silk poppies, a practice we should revive

by
Leslie Loftis

Bio

November 11, 2012 - 10:19 am
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The lapel poppies create awareness making the country’s mood more respectful, benefiting the sacrifices that veterans have made for us. Poppies became the symbol of the fallen due to the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae. Belgium saw heavy casualties in WWI and blood red poppies eventually grew over the fields of the fallen. To commemorate a friend, McCrae wrote:

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.

Professor Moina Michael

The poem is a primary school staple in the UK and Commonwealth the way the Gettysburg Address is in the US. A professor at the University of Georgia, Moina Michael, wrote a reply to “In Flanders Fields” and made silk poppies to sell and raise funds for the wounded. The practice spread to Europe where it still thrives. In “In Flanders Fields” the fallen call to us, in “We Shall Keep the Faith” we reply:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,

Sleep sweet – to rise anew!

We caught the torch you threw

And holding high, we keep the Faith

With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led;

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies,

But lends a lustre to the red

Of the flower that blooms above the dead

In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red

We wear in honor of our dead.

Fear not that ye have died for naught;

We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought

In Flanders Fields.

In Flanders Fields we fought.

I used my 9 year old's artwork for the first and last images in this post. The pastel at the top is from his Year 1 in London. Children in the UK learn about the poppies. They know the poem. They know the significance of the red. At our school here in Houston, the 3rd and 4th graders did a choral concert of patriotic songs. But while they memorized the words, they were only told that November the 11th was the end of WWII with no other context that I can discern. What good does it do to teach children the words to “My Country Tis of Thee” (minus the final verse, "Our fathers' God, to thee," incidentally) if they have no idea what it means?

 

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Leslie Loftis is a recovering lawyer, a housewife, and a mother of 4. She is also a serial Texpatriate, most recently returned from London, England.
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