the poppy

The Poppy; a universal symbol of hope and remembrance

I find it utterly amazing how the frail beauty of a little wildflower can capture the hearts and minds of so many. And yet, every November on the 11th day, of the 11th month at the 11th hour, we use this little flower to help focus our thoughts. We remember back to all the conflicts since WW1 when the poppy was first adopted as a powerful symbol. This little flower, blood-red and delicate is the abiding symbol of peace, hope, and remembrance. The Poppy, innocuous and gentle, after so much carnage, still tells its story each year as we remember all those who gave their lives for our freedom.

The Poppy; a brief history

Whether you come from a military family, or if you feel it important to take a moment to thank and appreciate the sacrifice of so many men and women over the years, the poppy helps us to do that.

During WW1, much of the fighting took place in Western Europe. The countryside was blasted, bombed and fought over repeatedly. Previously beautiful landscapes turned to mud; bleak and barren scenes where little or nothing could grow
The poppy. Remembrance day.

Such a difficult and desolate scene is not one where you would expect a little flower to thrive. But thrive it did. In the fields of Flanders, thousands upon thousands of poppies flourished and bloomed despite the mud and death.

Moved by the sight of the poppy growing in such numbers and in such destruction, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote a poem.

In Flander's 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.

The poem inspired a woman called Moina Michael who decided to adopt the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. She then campaigned to have it adopted as an official symbol of remembrance in America and worked with others for the same ends in the UK, Canada, and Australia.

Anna Guérin, a Frenchwoman, planned to sell poppies in 1921 and thereby caught the attention of Earl Haig to decided to adopt the poppy as a symbol of remembrance too. The Royal British Legion ordered 9 million poppies, all of which sold out. Since then, every year, the Poppy Appeal raises millions to help our ex-servicemen and women through their recovery. It brings hope to so many after going through so much.

Lest we forget

Whether or not you agree with war, we cannot avoid the truth of the many millions of men and women who gave of themselves in service to their country. That sort of sacrifice should never be taken for granted. Defending the freedoms we enjoy came at a terrible cost, and standing up for those who could not defend themselves is a noble calling. We should therefore never forget that cost.

But we must also look forward in hope, in reconciliation, and in peace so that these sacrifices need never be made again. War is ugly and cruel. So many who come back never regain who they once were. So we must serve and help where we can, to ease their burden. But also, to prevent recurrences.

A powerful symbol

The Poppy as a symbol is mostly used in the UK, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. Though I believe Americans may adopt it on Memorial Day on May 30th. The use of the Poppy, as I’ve said is a powerful symbol of hope, and of remembrance to help us focus our thoughts and acknowledge all that was given for our freedom. Brought out once a year, it is a recurring message that ensures our respect and gratitude.

In everyday life, we too have powerful symbols that help us to remember. When we lose loved ones, we may hold onto items that remind us of them and help us to think with fondness and love about the happy times we spent together. I have a painting in my home that reminds me fondly of my Dad. It wasn’t his, not did he ever see it. But it takes me back to a wonderful day we spent as a family climbing The Catbells in The Lake District. After so much hurt from his passing, I now can look back and be thankful. Thankful that I knew him and that his love and memory lives still.

the poppy. remembrance day
Buttercups and Catbells by Jeff Sudders

The poppy wasn’t something that people would have associated with their loved ones. But it became a focus for them to channel their grief, their love, their gratitude. Out of so much horror, the little poppy became the new growth, the fresh start, and the hope of reconciliation.

There’s always hope

If nothing else, the poppy teaches us that even in the midst of our worst nightmares, hope will spring forth. The hell that is war is all too real in our world. But so too are the battles we face every day ourselves at home. Be encouraged that even from the darkest of situations, we can find new life, new hope, and a purpose.

If the delicate poppy can grow through such destruction in search of the light and thrive, then so can we.

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