May 24, 2023
By POL Intern Heath Scofield
This month, the auxiliary of David Johnston Memorial Post 283 of the American Legion will recreate the Flanders Fields at its location (7725 Refugee Road). For each donation, a pinwheel poppy will be placed near the shelter house to either honor a loved one who has fallen or to support a current military member.
The poppy may seem like an odd choice, but it is historically significant. The corn poppy (Papaver Rhoeas) is a crimson, fast-growing field flower native to temperate areas of Europe, such as Belgium. It grows faster in areas of disturbed land, such as farmland or grave sites. Poppies also thrive in soil where other plants cannot, such as fields covered in lime from the rubble of a battle. In the first World War, some of the deadliest, most destructive battles occurred in Belgium including the three battles of Ypres, in the province of West Flanders.
One of the fatalities in the Second Battle of Ypres was Canadian Field Artillery Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. Presiding over his funeral was his friend, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. Impressed by the massive amounts of poppies covering the disturbed ground, McCrae wrote the poem In Flanders’ Fields.
It is believed that the poem was first written on May 2, the day that Lieutenant Helmer died however it was not published for another seven months. On December 8, 1915, the magazine Punch was the first official publication of McCrae’s poem. The poem became massively popular, being reprinted across the world in numerous publications. The poem inspired soldiers to dedicate their service in memory of those who came before them. For those on the home front, the poem served as a reminder of why their family members were fighting in the first place.
Following the war, the poem continued to be read in days of remembrance across the world. Canada, which also uses poppies in their currency, recites the poem in English and French (Au Champ d’Honneur) on Remembrance Day, November 11th. A Museum in Ypres is named after the poem, and McCrae’s birthplace has become a museum.
Perhaps the largest legacy of the poem is the planting and sale of poppies, which despite being more prominent in Commonwealth countries, was actually the idea of an American woman named Moina Michael. Michael came across In Flanders’ Fields while reading a copy of Ladies Home Journal in 1918 and was moved to always wear a red poppy in remembrance. She went on to campaign for the American Legion to adopt the red poppy as a national remembrance symbol, which happened two years later. At the National American Legion’s 1920 Conference, Madam E. Guerin brought the idea to France to support the orphans left by the war.
The efforts of Guerin led to French widows creating millions of silk poppies, which were then sold in the United States. The success of the campaign led to Guerin sending poppy sellers to London in 1921, where British Field Marshall Douglas Haig, as well as other veterans from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand picked up the idea. The newly created Royal British Legion went on to sell remembrance poppies that autumn and have done so ever since.
The American Legion’s poppy pinwheels will be placed the week before Memorial Day and remain on display until June 1. All raised funds will go towards the Post #283 Auxiliary Poppy Fund in support of Veterans. For more information, or if you wish to donate to the cause, please go to https://www.alpost283.org/poppy-fund.