Today the Royal British Legion launch this year’s annual Poppy Appeal. The RBL is a charity which provides support to men and women who are serving or have served in the Armed Forces, and their dependents. Selling poppies is one way in which they generate funds.
While I believe that the Poppy Appeal, and wearing of poppies, are common in North America (in Canada they are known as “Clowns Shoes”) and the Commonwealth, I know that their symbolism is not well understood in many parts of Europe. When I have worn my poppy on business trips in the past it has been the cause of some bemusement and discussion. So, I hope that this will be illuminating for some of my Continental visitors.
Wearing a poppy is also an important part of the annual Remembrance Day which is held on the Sunday closest to the 11th November and the Two Minute Silence, which is now commonly observed at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month – being the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice which ended the bloody conflict of World War 1. At these times we pause to remember the loss and sacrifice of those who have served and died in all conflicts from the Great War until the present day.
The use of the poppy was inspired by the poem of John MCCrae:
In Flanders’ Fields
John McCrae, 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
Wearing of the poppy is not, as some would claim, a celebration of victory over our past enemies or a celebration of war or our military heritage. Just look into the eyes of the veterans marching past the Cenotaph with their medals swinging proudly on their puffed out chests, or hear the word’s of Binyon’s “For the Fallen”, or the plaintive cry of the bugle playing the Last Post, and you can tell that it is indeed an act of remembrance. A memory of loss, young lives cut short, and, thanks for the sacrifice of many.
That is why I shall be wearing my poppy with pride again this year.