Anyone who has seen a field of Red Poppy wildflowers knows the vibrant scene it creates, yet its beauty often overshadows the deeper meaning it has held for more than a century. When World War 1 began in 1914, much of Europe was thrown into chaos. As annuals, the poppies grow quickly from seed each spring, and the destruction of war and churning of the fields yielded a sea of red in Northern France and Flanders, in western Belgium, in late 1914.
In Flanders Fields
Several months later, at a spot since made famous, Canadian battle surgeon John McCrae was inspired to write the poem, In Flanders Fields. Noting the fresh graves of fallen patients and comrades while poppies grew all around, he was moved to write a tribute memorializing their sacrifices. The poem was written on May 3, 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.
It would become the most famous poem of World War One, and McCrae’s own death in 1918 of pneumonia and meningitis, further reinforced its popularity. By this time, the Red Poppy had come to symbolize the memory of the Great War, representing death, renewal, and life. Eventually adopted by the British and Canadian legions as the symbol of remembrance, poppies are worn in lapels in Great Britain on Remembrance Day. An American war volunteer, Moina Michael, helped establish the Red Poppy in the U.S., and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion both embrace the significance of the flower.
The Red Poppy as a Symbol of Remembrance
As we approach the April 6, 2017 Centennial anniversary of U.S. involvement in World War 1, two major initiatives, in particular, are using the Red Poppy as a way to honor sacrifices made. The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission has just announced a new initiative: the WW1 Poppy Program. As an international symbol of remembrance for veteran sacrifice, the VFW will officially announce and endorse the program to its membership this week.
The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission
The Commission’s WW1 Poppy Program is designed to enable groups across the country to support the construction of the new National World War One Memorial at Pershing Park in Washington, D.C., while also raising funds for their organizations. Veteran services, state WW1 Centennial groups, national, state and local organizations, such as scout troops, schools and churches, will be joining the program, which has a goal of creating awareness and conversation about the Centennial of WW1.
Over 4.7 million American men and women served in the U.S. military during World War 1, with over 2 million deployed overseas. The United States lost over 116,000 soldiers in combat, and over 200,000 were wounded. More than 350,000 African Americans served in the U.S military, as well as Native Americans, and for the first time, women joined the ranks of the U.S armed forces.
The National World War 1 Museum
The National World War 1 Museum in Kansas City, MO has also undertaken a massive project, resulting in a visually stunning display. Last week, 10 years after the museum first constructed a field of poppy under a glass ceiling at the museum’s entrance, the display was upgraded, as museum staff planted 9,000 new blood-red poppies. Each Red Poppy represents 1,000 World War 1 combatants who lost their lives during service, thus honoring the 9 million total soldiers killed during the Great War.
Mike Vietti, the museum’s director of marketing, commented that “it was an important decision for the museum to make because when guests enter the museum, it’s such a mind-blowing, such a moving experience, for people to see this huge poppy field and to understand and put into context just how many people lost their lives during the course of World War 1 and really how that continues to affect us to this day.”
“In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace” – April 6, 2017
As the nation’s premier museum featuring the most comprehensive collection of WW1 objects and documents, as well as one of the largest and most symbolic memorials in the world, the National WW1 Museum and Memorial is proud to host “In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace”, the National Centennial Commemoration, to be held April 6, 2017. The date marks the centennial anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war against Germany, officially entering the conflict that had already raged for three years. Invited attendees include the President of the United States; Congressional leadership; Cabinet members; State governors; U.S. military leaders; veteran organizations; descendants of significant American WW1 figures; and other organizations, dignitaries, and VIPs.
As the Official Licensee of the WW1 Centennial Commission’s merchandise program, C. Forbes, Inc. is pleased to have Red Poppy kits available for purchase on the WW1 merchandise website. Please contact us for more information on our products and customization process. Our mission is to design, produce and present quality, custom items that tell your story. We welcome the opportunity to combine your goals with our expertise to properly commemorate your unique anniversary, event or organization.