True in spirit

I’ve come across this on Facebook several times:

A lovely military man selling poppies stopped me today and asked if he could re-position 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.

There’s no mention of this at NZ History Online:

The red or Flanders poppy has been linked with battlefield deaths since the time of the Great War (1914–18). The plant was one of the first to grow and bloom in the mud and soil of Flanders. The connection was made, most famously, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in his poem ‘In Flanders fields’.

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 . . .

McCrae was a Canadian medical officer who, in May 1915, had conducted the funeral service of a friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres (Ieper). Distressed at the death and suffering around him, McCrae scribbled the verse in his notebook. In a cemetery nearby, red poppies blew gently in the breeze – a symbol of regeneration and growth in a landscape of blood and destruction.

McCrae threw away the poem, but a fellow officer rescued it and sent it on to the English magazine Punch; ‘In Flanders fields’ was published on 8 December 1915. Three years later, on 28 January 1918, McCrae was dead. As he lay dying, he is reported to have said ‘Tell them this, if ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep.’

Many people were moved by the pathos of ‘In Flanders fields’. Among them was Moina Michael (1869–1944) who worked in a YMCA canteen in New York. Two days before the signing of the Armistice (11 November 1918), she wrote a reply to McCrae: ‘We shall keep the faith’.

Michael set herself a mission: to have the red poppy adopted in the United States as a national symbol of remembrance. The American Legion adopted it at its annual convention in September 1920. Attending that event was Madame E. Guérin who, along with Michael, was responsible for making the poppy an international symbol of remembrance. Both were known at the time as ‘The Poppy Lady’.

Guérin saw the potential to make and sell poppies, putting the proceeds towards the welfare of veterans, their families and poor children. For the next year or so Guérin and others approached veterans’ groups in many countries, urging them to adopt the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

The first Poppy Day

New Zealand was one of these countries. One of Guérin’s representatives, Colonel Alfred Moffatt, suggested the poppy idea to the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association (as the Returned Services’ Association or RSA was originally known) in September 1921. The Returned Soldiers’ Association placed an order for 350,000 small and 16,000 large silk poppies, all made by Madame Guérin’s French Children’s League. . . 

Nor is it mentioned by the RSA.

This isn’t the first time significance is attributed to the colours or design of a symbol after the fact.

The anecdote is true to the spirit of  the poppy but how it’s worn isn’t as important as that it is, and that poppies sales still help returned service people and their families.

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