Memorial Day and the Red Poppy

In 1915, Canadian medical officer John McCrae published what has become one of the most popular poems from the First World War, 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
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.

After reading this poem Moina Michael, a college teacher and YMCA War Worker, was so moved that she was inspired to write a response. Hastily written on the back of an envelope, she penned the lines to We Shall Keep the Faith:

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.

From that day on, Michael vowed to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance. Others, inspired by the personal memorial, joined in the practice. The Poppy emblem was eventually adopted in the United States as a national memorial symbol, a reminder of those who had not returned home.

As Michael wrote, the blood of heroes truly never dies. Their sacrifices truly do live on, enriching the fertile soil of our memories, bringing forth red poppies that grow in honor of those who’ve passed on the torch.

Sleep sweet, brave comrades, until you arise anew.

  • Michael Snow

    Thus the Poppy became the symbol used for Remembrance Day (our Armistice Day, now Veterans Day) in November, the season when the VFW would sell them to raise funds for veterans and sponsor Poppy Poster Contests in the grade schools.

  • Michael Snow

    Winston Churchill on The Great War:

    “At the beginning of this War megalomania was the only form of sanity.” November 15, 1915

    “There is more blood than paint upon these hands. All those thousands of men killed. We thought it would be a little job, and so it might have been if it had begun in the right way.” July, 1915, Hoe Farm, Godalming, Surrey

    “[My only consolation for the failure of the Dardanelles] was that God wished things to be prolonged in order to sicken mankind of war, and that therefore He had interfered with a project that would have brought the war to a speedier conclusion.” 1929, Atlantic Voyage

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