It started with a poem written by a World War I brigade surgeon , Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who was struck by the sight of the red flowers growing on a ravaged battlefield, after the Second Battle of Ypres in which some 87000 Allied soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing, among whom was Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, a friend of McCrae’s.
Struck by the sight of bright red blooms on broken ground, McCrae wrote a poem, “In Flanders Field,” in which he channeled the voice of the fallen soldiers buried under those hardy poppies.
Across the Atlantic, a woman named Moina Michael read “In Flanders Field” in the pages of Ladies’ Home Journal that November, just two days before the armistice. Inspired by McCrae’s verses, Michael wrote her own poem in response, which she called “We Shall Keep Faith.”
As a sign of this faith, and a remembrance of the sacrifices of Flanders Field, Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy; she found an initial batch of fabric blooms for herself and her colleagues at a department store. After the war ended, she came up with the idea of making and selling red silk poppies to raise money to support returning veterans.
On the opposite side of the Atlantic, a Frenchwoman named Anna Guérin had championed the symbolic power of the red poppy from the beginning. Invited to the American Legion convention to speak about her idea for an “Inter-Allied Poppy Day,” Madame Guérin helped convince the Legion members to adopt the poppy as their symbol, and to join her by celebrating National Poppy Day in the United States the following May.
Back in France, she organized French women, children and veterans to make and sell artificial poppies as a way to fund the restoration of war-torn France.
Within a year, she brought her campaign to England, where in November 1921 the newly founded (Royal) British Legion held its first-ever “Poppy Appeal,” which sold millions of the silk flowers and raised over £106,000 to go towards finding employment and housing for Great War veterans.
The following year, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory in Richmond, England, in which disabled servicemen were employed to make the fabric and paper blooms.
Other nations soon followed suit in adopting the poppy as their official symbol of remembrance. Today, nearly a century after World War I ended, millions of people in the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, France, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand don the red flowers every November 11 (known as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day) to commemorate the anniversary of the 1918 armistice. According to McNab, the Poppy Factory (now located in Richmond, England and Edinburgh, Scotland) is still the center of poppy production, churning out as many as 45 million poppies made of various materials each year.
UVAE – Human Rights Committee