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Category: Remembrance Day

History of the Poppy Appeal.


By AmeriCymru, 2009-09-25



As some of the bloodiest fighting of World War 1 took place in the Flanders and Picardy regions of Northern France .The poppy was the only thing which grew in the aftermath of the complete devastation. Colonel John McCrea had served as a gunner in the Boer War, but went to France in World War One as a medical Officer with the first Canadian Contingent deeply inspired and moved by what he saw, wrote these verses:


In Flanders ' Fields

John McCrea 1915

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 inspiration for the verses had been the death of a fellow officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. McCrae's verses, which he had scribbled in pencil on a page torn from his dispatch book, were sent anonymously by a fellow officer to the English magazine, Punch, and published under the title In Flanders Fields on 8 December 1915. Among the many people moved by McCrae's poem a YMCA canteen worker in New York , iss Moina Michael (1869-1944), who, two days before the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, wrote a reply entitled We Shall Keep the Faith. Moina Michael hereafter tirelessly campaigned to get the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance in the United States . In September 1920 the American Legion adopted the Poppy at its annual Convention. Attending that Convention was a French woman who was about to promote the poppy as a symbol of remembrance throughout the world.

Madame E. Gurin, conceived the idea of widows manufacturing artificial poppies in the devastated areas of Northern France which then could be sold by veterans' organizations worldwide for their own veterans and dependants as well as the benefit of destitute French children. Throughout 1920-21, Gurin and her representatives approached veteran organizations' in the United States , Britain , Canada , Australia and New Zealand and urged them to adopt the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. It was as a result of the efforts of Michael and Gurin both of whom became known endearingly as the "Poppy Lady" that the poppy became an international symbol of remembrance.

Veteran organizations in the United Kingdom , Canada and Australia , hold their inaugural Poppy Appeal in association with Armistice Day 1921 (11 November 1921). After over 80 years, few appeals can claim the history and public recognition as that of the Poppy Day Appeal. The Poppy is not only visible on Poppy Day and other commemorative occasions, but at funerals of returned servicemen and women. It is also taken on pilgrimages to be laid at war memorials and war graves around the world. So the tradition began. We call it Armistice Day or Rememberance day in Britain , here in the USA we call it Memorial Day. The main point of this Day is the promotion of peace, not blind patriotism or nationalism. The Royal British Legion safeguards the welfare, interests and memory of those who are serving or who have served in the Armed Forces. Each year the demand for our support continues as Service men and women, young and old, call on us for assistance.

There are many ways you can help including making a donation, volunteering your time, participating in a fundraising event and supporting the Poppy Appeal. It is one of the best known and supported campaigns in the calendar and each year the nation shows its support for the Legion's work by giving generously to the Poppy Appeal If you can spare some time to help us,we need volunteers all year to help as Poppy Collectors at the various social gatherings.



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