Who kept the faith and fought the fight; The glory theirs, the duty ours. ~Wallace Bruce
They are dead; but they live in each Patriot's breast, And their names are engraven on honor's bright crest. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Cover them over with beautiful flowers, Deck them with garlands, those brothers of ours,
Lying so silent by night and by day. Sleeping the years of their manhood away. Give them the meed they have won in the past; Give them the honors their future forcast; Give them the chaplets they won in the strife; Give them the laurels they lost with their life.~Will Carleton
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.
John McCrae, 1915.
A doctor of medicine, McCrae saw his friend killed in WW1 while in charge of a field hospital and he wrote this poem the next day in 1915. The poem has had a profound effect, being used in many fund-raising campaigns.
Buying a poppy isn't a political act. The purchase supports the families of soldiers killed or disabled in war.
This poem is not political, although people have tried to make it so, it is about young men killed in battle who, if they had voices, would ask for some purpose rather than they should have died in vain.
Isn't a noble purpose the only consolation for those whose loved ones are killed in battle?
The Greeks have a legend that explains how the poppy came to be called the Corn Poppy. The poppy was created by the god of sleep, Somnus. You see Ceres, the goddess of grain, was having a hard time falling asleep. She was exhausted from searching for her lost daughter; still she couldn't fall asleep and had no energy to help the corn grow. Somnus cooked up a concoction and got her to take it, soon she was sleeping like a baby. Rested and relaxed Ceres could then turn her attention to the corn which began to grow. Ever since that time the people believed that poppies growing around cornfields ensure a bountiful harvest. And so was born the Corn Rose, or as we call it today the Corn Poppy.
Those are some of the ancient legends associated with the poppy. Now you are asking if I am ever going to explain the war connection. This too is an ancient connection going back to Ghengis Khan. It is said that after his annihilation of the enemy the fields were churned up and drenched in blood. Soon they were covered in pure white blooms of the poppy. During the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century the same phenomenon occurred. Churned up blood-drenched fields erupted in poppy flowers.
The most recent and enduring tradition began in WWI when John McCrae wrote the poem that appears at the top of this article. McCrae was a Canadian who enlisted to help the allies in the war. He was made Medical Officer upon landing in Europe. During a lull in the battle with the nub of a pencil he scratched on a page from his dispatch book. The poem found its way into the pages of Punch magazine. By 1918 the poem was well known throughout the allied world. Moina Michael, an American woman, wrote these lines in reply.
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies
She then adopted the custom of wearing a red poppy in memory of the sacrifices of war and also as a symbol of keeping the faith.
A French women, Madam Guerin, visiting the United States, learned of the custom and took it one step further. When she returned to France she decided to hand make the red poppies and sell them to raise money for the benefit of the orphaned and destitute women and children in war torn areas of France. This tradition spread to Canada, The United States and Australia and is still followed today. The money collected from the sale of poppies goes to fund various veterans programs.