During World War I, across northern France and in Flanders Field in northern Belgium, the most brutal fighting occurred between Allied and Central Powers. During that battle, Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian serving as a brigade surgeon, tended to the wounded and sick. In 1915 in the early spring, he noticed bright red flowers peeking through the battle-scarred land. At the sight of the bright-red blooms, McCrae wrote a poem, “In Flanders Field,” in which he channeled the voices of fallen soldiers buried under the poppies. McCrae himself died in January 1918.
Across the Atlantic, a woman named Moina Michael read “In Flanders Field '' and wrote her own poem in response titled, “We Shall Keep the Faith.” After the war she returned to Athens and came up with the idea of making and selling red silk poppies to raise money to support returning veterans.
On the other side of the Atlantic, a French woman, Anna Geueir, organized women, children, and vets to make and sell artificial poppies to help war-torn France.
After World War I, in 1922, the poppy factory now located in Richmond, England and Edinburgh, Scotland was the center for poppy production, churning out as many as 45 million various materials each year.
In the United States, the tradition is a little different. Americans do not typically wear poppies on Nov. 11, which is Veterans Day, to honor all living veterans; they wear the symbolic red flower on Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, to commemorate the sacrifice of so many men and women who have given their lives fighting for their country.
Henry D. Belsvik