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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Wear a Poppy?

The red poppy, a common weed of Europe, was adopted as the official flower of remembrance and honour for those whom fought and died in foreign wars. With the wearing of poppies in Canada, the sacrifices of so many are brought to the fore once again.

In April 1915, a young Canadian soldier,Dr. John McCrae, watched as one of his closest friends was killed in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium. His comrade was buried in a humble grave marked by a  simple wooden cross. Wild poppies bloomed between the crosses marking the many graves. The next day, unable to help his friend or the others who had died, Dr. McCrae gave them a voice through his poem “In Flanders Fields”.

The ancient symbolism of finality of death, and enduring sleep which the poppy represents to many; is echoed in the sombre tones of the poem, as is the Greco-Roman connection of the bright red,signifying life after death in the lines:

“If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.”

As a youngster these lines gave me terrifying nightmares of dead soldiers rising to take vengeance upon a society still at war. 

To many the red of the poppy has come to symbolize the blood shed in the war, and the black centre the loss of lives. In 1980, the centre was changed to green, a colour of hope, and the colour of the fields in Flanders where the allies landed. I remember wearing a three piece poppy, long ago. The green proved to be unpopular with the membership and poppies reverted to the two piece red and black in 2002. While some people have started wearing white poppies in a symbol of the hope for peace, I prefer to honour the sacrifice by wearing the red and black while adding a bit of green to mine in the hopes that we will eventually find a better way to solve problems in the world without resorting to violence.

Read more about the life and times of the Canadian soldier, surgeon, teacher and poet Lieutenant Colonial John McCrae on Veterans Affairs Canada web site.

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