For so many years I have worn a poppy in early November but, somewhat ashamedly, I’ve never really stopped to think and understand its symbolism.
There are many who believe the wearing of a poppy is wrong; that it is being used to justify the present day war on terror. Many are choosing to stop wearing one because they believe the original sentiment has become lost. I don’t abide by these attitudes. It is vital we give thanks and stop, if only once a year, to bow our heads in remembrance of all those that have fought and given their lives so that we can be free.
University professor, Karen Lowton, asked veteran Peter Godsmark (76) for the meaning behind the wearing of a poppy. She posted this on her Facebook page and it has been shared by many. It’s important we understand the meaning behind this powerful red symbol. To quote her post:
‘A lovely military man selling poppies stopped me today and asked if he could reposition mine. While doing so he told me that women should wear their poppy on their right side; the red represents the blood of all those who gave their lives, the black represents the mourning of those who didn’t have their loved ones return home, and the green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much. The leaf should be positioned at 11 o’clock to represent the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the time that World War One formally ended. He was worried that younger generations wouldn’t understand this and his generation wouldn’t be around for much longer to teach them.’
But why is a poppy the symbol we have chosen to commemorate such tragic, sad and hard periods in our history?
In 1915, a doctor serving in the Canadian Armed Forces by the name of John McCrae penned the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’; recording the sheer horror and devastation he had experienced for 17 solid days treating injured men as they fell. In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches in that part of Europe.
Poppies only flower in rooted up soil. Their seeds can stay in the ground for years without germinating and only grow after the ground has been disturbed. Flowering in the mud-strewn fields and ditches of Flanders where once there had been houses, farms and trees, the poppy literally brought new life, hope and colour to the devastated area.
In 1918, Moira Michael from America wrote a poem in tribute to McCrae’s verse called ‘We shall keep the faith’. In it she promised to wear a poppy ‘in honour of our dead’ and this is believed to be the start of the tradition of wearing a poppy in remembrance.
The Royal British Legion explains: the poppy honours all those who have sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms we enjoy today. A charity providing financial, social, political and emotional support to those who have served or who are currently serving in the British Armed Forces and their dependants, the Royal British Legion uses the appeal to raise vital funds to continue their work. They co-ordinate a team of about 50 people – most of them disabled former British military personnel – working all year round to make more than 50 million poppies at the Poppy Factory in Richmond.
Today I stopped at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and I remembered.
Lest we forget.