The Poppy of Remembrance

Yesterday was Remembrance Day here in Australia. In the U.S., it’s Veterans Day today.

Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. Veterans Day is a federal holiday that honors the service of all U.S. military veterans. While it coincides with Remembrance Day, Veterans Day is different from it and the American Memorial Day, which is for remembering the men and women who died while serving.

In both the U.S. and Australia, the red poppy is used to commemorate soldiers who have died in war. The poppy has a long history with slumber and death.

In the Ancient Greek world, the poppy was associated with Morpheus, the god of dreams, perhaps because opium and opiates are derived from some varieties of poppy. Morphine, named after the Greek god, is the most abundant alkaloid in opium. Morpheus was the son of Hypnos, the god of sleep, whose twin brother is Thanatos, the god of death. Not surprisingly, the Ancient Greeks believed that the land of dreams was located somewhere near the Underworld.

The poppy is a common weed in Europe and grew over battlefields and the graves of soldiers, moving Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to record their presence in his famous 1915 war poem “In Flanders 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.

Inspired by this poem, in 1918 an American professor and humanitarian named Moina Michael published her own poem in response titled “We Shall Keep the Faith.”

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
In Flanders Fields we fought

1948 U.S. postage stamp honoring Moina Michael.

Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the war. She went on to create and sell silk poppies as a means of raising funds to assist disabled veterans. In 1921, the American Legion Auxiliary adopted the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans.

I salute both American’s and Australia’s servicemen and women. May we always honor their sacrifice and memory.

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