Hello fellow readers, Have you ever wondered why poppies are a symbol of Veterans Day? It stems from a powerful poem titled Flanders Fields, the name given to World War I battlefields from southern Belgium to north-west France. Flanders Fields is famously read at veterans memorial services. There’s more to the story of the history of Veterans Day poppies…
About Flanders Fields
While there are different versions of the story, the most common is that Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae was inspired to write Flanders Fields after presiding over a friend and fellow soldier’s funeral, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. According to legend, soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, dissatisfied with his work, threw it out.
Flanders Fields first published on December 8, 1915, in London’s Punch magazine. It starts with “In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow. Between the crosses, row on row…” Though McCrae’s handwritten version reads, “In Flanders Fields, the poppies grow.” And grow they do!
Poppies symbolize different things.
Poppies have mixed meanings: the traditional red, a symbol of remembrance, healing, and eternal life. Creamy white signifies peace and restfulness. While pink, purple, and blue hues represent creativity, accomplishment, and lavishness.
We all know the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the field of poppies puts Dorothy and her friends to sleep. The annual poppies (Papaver somniferu) are what make opium. The same plant is the source of poppy seeds that adorn bagels. However, ninety percent of the opiate residue is removed during processing.
There are annual and perennial poppies.
It’s the annual Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) that is the one in Flanders Fields. Folks also call them corn or field poppy due to the proliferation as an agricultural weed. If you have pets or kids with a propensity to eat things they shouldn’t, skip the poisonous annual poppies.
Iceland Poppy (Papaver nudicaule) are the perennial poppies hardy in Zones 2 through 9. They, too, are toxic, though the toxicity level is low. While short-lived, they self-seed readily, assuring generations of these beauties.
I adore how the alien-looking poppy flower pods ascend from hairy stems on spikey fern-like leaves before bursting into vibrant blooms. Blood red is the iconic color of the bowl-shaped flowers, but there’s orange, yellow, salmon, pink, and cream-colored poppies too. They like normal to sandy soil, not clay, full sun to part shade, and are drought tolerant once established. And, they are deer and rabbit resistant!
Last week, Curt announced that he has Veterans Day off. I wondered why they didn’t wrap the holiday into the weekend. He didn’t know, and so I decided to ask Mary 🙂
The History of Veterans Day
Veterans Day is rich with history. While World War I officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, combat ended seven months prior. A truce, known as an armistice, was agreed upon between Germany and the Allied Nations. It went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 and is considered the end of “the war to end all wars” —coined after The War That Will End War by H. G. Wells published in 1914. If only that were the case.
President Wilson declared November 11, 1919, the first Armistice Day, and it became a legal holiday in 1938. The name changed to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all American veterans of all wars. The date did once float to make a three-day weekend like Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Washington’s Birthday, but that changed in 1975 under President Ford.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs explains, “The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day. A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
No Man’s Land
Ken Roberts, my singing partner for Karen Ann Quinlan’s Home for Hospice, sent a link to a song that references Flanders Fields titled No Man’s Land, also known as The Green Fields of France or Willie McBride. Written by Scottish folk singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1976, the lyrics about a nineteen-year-old fallen soldier brings me to tears.
One chorus starts with, “Well, the sun’s shining now on these green fields of France; The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance. The trenches have vanished long under the plough. No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.”
Let us never forget or take for granted our veterans’ service and those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Link to No Man’s Land
You’ll enjoy the previous column featuring the Wizard of Oz titled Chasing Rainbows and Leaves.