On May 3, 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian Medical Officer, wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields.” The day before, he had presided over the funeral and burial of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. While sitting in the back of a medical field ambulance, Dr. McCrae penned these words: (John F. Prescott, John F. In Flanders Fields, The Story of John McCrae. The Boston Mills Press, 1985, p. 77).
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. In Flanders Fields and Other Poems. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1919, p 3.)
The poem was first published on December 15, 1915, but Dr. McCrae did not live to see the end of the First World War, dying of pneumonia on January 28, 1918. The power and inspiration of his words continue to inspire and memorialize those who fought or are still fighting to defend our rights and freedoms.
Two days before the signing of the Armistice of November 11, 1918, Moina Belle Michael was powerfully touched when she re-read Dr. McCrae’s poem, retitled “We Shall Not Sleep,” in The Ladies Home Journal. (John McCrae, “We Shall Not Sleep,” Ladies Home Journal, November, 1918, 56)
That day, she silently promised herself that every November for the rest of her life she would wear a poppy to remember those who had sacrificed their lives in defending their countries’ rights and freedoms. When Moina shared this idea with soldiers gathered at the Y.M.C.A. convention hall where she worked, they also wanted to wear poppies. So, Moina went searching stores all over New York City, but she was only able to find one large and 24 small red silk poppies. Pinning one to the left collar of her cloak, she returned to the hall where she put the large poppy in the vase on her desk and watched as 23 soldiers pinned them on their uniforms. This was the first 20th century use of the poppy as a memorial symbol. (Moina Michael. The Miracle Flower: The Story of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy. Philadelphia: Dorrance and Company, 1941).
After the war’s end, she noticed returning servicemen and women—many disabled—facing difficulties in trying to reclaim their lives. Moina started to ponder ways that poppies could be used not only to remember those who had died but also to honour and support veterans and their families. Through her persistence, several national and international organizations adopted the poppy as their memorial flower. (Barbara Elizabeth Walsh. The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans. Calkins Creek, an Imprint Boyds Mills Press, Inc., Honesday, Pennsylvania, 2012).
During the past century, its meanings and uses have continued to expand. During a visit to the United States in 1920, Madam E. Guerin proposed that poppies could be used for raising funds for children in France, and The Great War Veterans Association (the predecessor of the Royal Canadian Legion) adopted the poppy as the Flower of Remembrance on July 5, 1921 (see History of the Poppy). (“History of the Poppy.” The Royal Canadian Legion. Ottawa, ON.)
Each year the Royal Canadian Legion fosters remembrance through their Annual Poster and Literary contests: see http://legion.ca/communities-youth/youth-education/remembrance-contests. Millions of youth have drawn their own posters and written essays and poems that express how the red poppy helps them both remember the dead and honor veterans of subsequent wars and peacekeeping efforts. Canadians—both young and older—have not forgotten.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we strongly believe in many of the things that the poppy has come to symbolize:
To preserve “…their lands, their liberty, yea, their freedom from bondage.” (Alma 43:48).
“…being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” (Articles of Faith).
Keeping faith with those who valiantly sacrificed their lives so that we can live in freedom and safety (Alma 62:37).
Helping those veterans and their families who are in need of physical and spiritual support (D&C 81:5).
The importance of remembering the dead: “…the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers….” (Joseph Smith—History 1:39).
The reality that the dead will be resurrected: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Teaching our children to love each other: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34-35).
With this history in mind for Remembrance Day 2018, wear a poppy distributed by the Royal Canadian Legion, make a donation to the Poppy Fund, and take time to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies. Also, consider sharing your feelings on social media about the importance of the Remembrance Day Poppy.