Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget

Amidst the carnage of the Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army penned a few hurried lines. Dissatisfied with the result, he tossed his pad away. It was retrieved by a fellow officer who sent it to Britain and on December 8, 1915 McCrae's lines ran in the London papers:

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.


Moina Bell Michael was one who caught the torch. Moina was in Europe when war broke out in 1914 and served in the war efforts before returning home to America. When the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917, she continued volunteering in New York City. On November 9, 1918, two days before the Armistice, she came across John McCrae's poem and was deeply moved. She responded with her own poem:

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 valour 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 honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Moira then began formulating an idea for the poppy to become a symbol of those who sacrificed their time, talents, and lives in the Great War. She launched her campaign in March 1919 and it quickly spread to England, France, Australia, and all over the world.

Veteran soldiers who had been wounded in the war and were unable to work were tasked with making the silk poppies. The flowers were then sold and 100% of the profits were given to support veterans and their families. When Moira died in 1944, over $200 million dollars had been raised in the U.S. and England alone.

In England, the British Legion has continued Moira Michael's efforts. Veteran soldiers still work to assemble the more than 36 million poppies, 107,000 wreaths and sprays, 800,000 Remembrance Crosses and other Remembrance items that will be made at the Poppy Factory in Richmond, Surrey, this year. The poppies are sold by volunteers throughout London during the weeks leading up to Armistice Day. These flowers adorn the lapels of men, women, and children all over the city who wear them to honor both veterans and soldiers on active duty. This year, the Poppy Appeal has raised nearly £4.4 million to date.

I had the honor of attending the services at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday this year where I witnessed the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William, and other members of the Royal Family and peerage, as well as the Prime Minister and other dignitaries place wreaths of poppies at the base of the monument. Their wreaths were soon obscured by the dozens of flowers presented by companies of soldiers and veterans who marched down Whitehall.

I was able to experience the two minutes of silence that echoed from Westminster to Trafalgar Square.

And I was able to see for myself the sea of poppies adorning the breast of every single person in attendance who braved the cold and the rain to show their gratitude--to those both living and dead--for the lessons they have taught in places such as Flanders Fields.


Lauren Palmer said...

Thanks for writing this. It's awesome. Makes me miss London in a totally different way.

Macie said...

That is so cool. It gives me chills.