Category Archives: Remembrance Day

Why the Red Poppy?

* In Memory of my father-in-law, my grandfather, and my great grandfather *

Today is the Remembrance day when poppies blossom on the lapels and collars of the millions of Canadians. Although mainly associated with World War I, this day has become a rite of genuine war remembrance and of all those who fought or died in the line of duty. What does the red poppy signify?

The poppy was inspired by World War I lieutenant John McCrae’s famous war memorial short rhymed poem “In Flanders Fields”. which described the poppies blowing among the endless lines of freshly dug graves.

 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.

There have been numerous interpretations as to the inspiration for the poem, but the most commonly held belief is that McCrae wrote it the day after presiding over the burial of his friend who had been killed in the battle in Flanders fields, where the poppies seeds sprouted up everywhere in battlefields/cemeteries broken ground.

What is the initial symbolism of the red poppy? The oriental legend goes (I am paraphrasing) there once grew a white flower in ancient China known as the “flower of forgetfulness” from which a potions were made to induce sleep, transformation, and ecstatic dreams. Centuries passed, dynasties rose and fell, then, out of the land of the white poppy, came Genghis Khan. As he swept westward across Asia bringing terror and death, the seeds of the “flower of forgetfulness” put forth blooms wherever the blood of man was spilt. The ravaging hordes poised to invade Europe continued their bloody way when a strange transformation took place: the “flower of forgetfulness” turned blood red and the cross appeared in the centre of each flower, as though nature herself was crying to protest the horrible slaughter.

The Canadian poppy symbol of Remembrance has been the nation’s visual pledge to never forget all those who have fallen in war since 1921. Other countries have also adopted its image to honour those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, so the poppy now also “stands internationally as a symbol of collective reminiscence”.

 Here are some interesting facts (you may not know) about Remembrance Day:

* Remembrance Day is observed on November 11 to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 when the Armistice was signed with German at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (11-11-11).

* John McCrae was not only a Canadian soldier and poet, but also a well-known Professor of Medicine at McGill University, Montreal.

* The Canadian $10 bill note features the first verse “In Flanders Fields”, and its French adaptation, “Au champ d’honneur“, by Jean Pariseau, together with doves, a wreath of poppies, and a banner inscribed “N’oublions jamais — Lest We Forget.” According to the Bank of Canada, these written and visual elements symbolize peace and commemoration.
* The coloured red poppy insert now blooms on a 25 cents coin piece newly issued by Royal Canadian Mint.

* Each November most Canadian students have at one time or another memorize “In Flanders Fields,” to recite it in school gymnasiums and around war memorials in Canada and throughout many other English-speaking countries.

* Canadian Remembrance Day is a public holiday, but not for everyone in Canada with Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec being exceptions.