The Poppy

As my country does not belong to the Commonwealth or fought in either of the World Wars, I had no idea that a poppy was worn on Remembrance Day (11th November) as a tribute to the fallen in battle. I learned about it a few years back when we were in England. Sean had dropped me off at a shopping mall somewhere before going to a meeting.

The entrance hall was empty except for me and an elderly gentleman in dress uniform sitting behind a stall. He asked me if I wanted a poppy. I really didn’t but I felt obligated to buy one because I was the only customer in sight and he was rather pushy. In my ignorance, I asked him how much it was. The cantankerous veteran barked that it was A VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION. I gave him a pound. What do I do with the poppy now? YOU PUT IN ON YOUR LAPEL, YOU SILLY TOURIST (he didn’t actually call me that but he implied it with his withering look.)

Years later, one of our expeditions around Ontario, Canada, took us to Guelph, a lovely town with a Victorian downtown area.

Quite by chance, we learned that Lt. Col. John McCrae’s birthplace was near the Speed River. And who was Lt. Col. John McCrae, one can wonder. He wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields after the Second Battle of Ypres (Belgium, 1915) as a war memorial. The house where McCrae was born is now a museum (which was closed that day) and there’s a pretty moving memorial in the garden. The garden was in full bloom (it was July) and there were different kinds of poppies, of course. It’s well worth a visit if one’s in the area.

Lt Col John McRae's birthplace - Guelph

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.

Lt Col John McRae's birthplace - Guelph

Wikipedia tells me that “Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918) was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I and a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres. He is best known for writing the famous war memorial poem “In Flanders Fields”.

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Ana

Hi, I'm Ana. I'm originally from Argentina but I'm currently living in Dallas (USA) with my British husband. I'd like to share my experiences as an expat and as a traveller.

8 thoughts on “The Poppy”

  1. Poppies are gorgeous flowers, and I quite like this custom, although it’s not observed in the U.S. Veterans Day is overlooked by a lot of Americans, and I think the poppy is a nice visual reminder for people of what the day represents.

    The photo of John McCrae’s birthplace and garden is lovely, by the way.

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    1. Almost everyone in Canada and the UK wears a poppy that week. It’s quite moving to see the old boys in full uniform and medals offering poppies.
      Even thought the house was closed, we were lucky to be able to visit the gardens!

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  2. I love the description of the veteran. I’m used to seeing young cadets them, and being ‘the polite Canadian’, feeling guilty for not buying them from the kids even if I already am wearing one.

    John McCrae had a beautiful house. I will have to spend more time in Ontario.

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  3. I was just in London this week and everyone wore poppies. There was even a big debate whether the English football team could wear poppies when playing.

    As I understand it, the poppies now are meant as a gesture to veterans of all wars, not just WW I. But it’s interesting how Britain (and I suppose many of the Commonwealth countries as well) still remember WW I. I remember seeing a memorial to the ‘Great War’ once (in Cambridge, I think it was) and was surprised to learn it referred to the first world war. Up here, WWI is completely overshadowed by WW II.

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