The Inspiration That Began The Tradition Of The Poppy

In Flanders Fields – John McCrae


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 Remembrance Poppy

Poppies have long been used as a symbol of remembrance. Today, they are mainly used in the UK and Canada to commemorate their servicemen and women who have been killed since 1914. The use of the poppy was inspired by the above World War I poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, written by John McCrae, who wrote it after witnessing the death of his friend. It was at this time he noticed how they had sprung up in the disturbed ground of the burials around the artillery position he was in. This is what is referenced within the first stanza (verse).

Inspired by this poem, Moina Belle Michael, made a personal pledge to ‘Keep The Faith’, which is her poem dedicated to the remembrance of all those lost. In was in November 1918 at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries conference in New York after reading ‘In Flanders Fields’ that she vowed always to wear a Red Poppy, going on to campaign to have the Red Poppy used as the national symbol of remembrance. At this same conference, Anna E. GuĂ©rin was inspired to introduce the artificial poppies that are commonly used to day.

John McCrae

During the Second Battle of Ypres a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on the 2nd of May, 1915 in the gun positions near Ypres. He was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as a friend of, that being the Canadian military doctor and artillery commander, Major John McCrae.

As the brigade doctor, John McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis because the chaplain had been called away somewhere else on duty that evening. It is believed that later that evening, after the burial, John began the draft for his now famous poem, ‘We Shall Not Sleep’ later named ‘In Flanders Fields’.

January 28, 1918, while still on duty, McCrae died of pneumonia. He was buried the following day in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of Wimereux Cemetery, with full military honours.