In Flanders Fields: a poem by Lt. Colonel 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 the failing hands, we thrown
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break with with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
This poem was composed at the battlefront on May 3 1915 during the second battle of Ypres in Belgium. On May 2, 1915, John McCrae, a surgeon with Canada’s First Brigade Artillery was saddened by the death of a close friend Alexis Helmer who was killed by a German shell. In the absence of a chaplain, John wrote a few lines, from memory from the Church of England’s’ Order of the Burial of the Dead. For security reasons Alexis was buried at night in Essex Farm Cemetery.
The next day Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson was delivering the mail and McCrae was sitting alone in the back of an ambulance. Allinson watched as McCrae put to paper the words he felt as the war raged on and his friend was dead. The poem was an exact description of the scene in front of these men but neither man had the thought that the poem would be an inspiration to honor the veterans, worldwide.
One of the most famous symbols of the sacrifice and loss we mark on Memorial Day is the poppy, inspired by the poem which was first printed in December 1915 in a British magazine. Soon after writing In Flanders Fields, McCrae was named the chief of medical services but disillusioned by the war, he found solace in writing letters and poetry writing The Anxious Dead as his final work. John McCrae passed away on January 28th 1918.
Inspired by the poem, an American woman, Moina Michael originated the idea of wearing artificial red poppies to honor the war dead donating the money to the families of the dead soldiers. By 1920, the poppy was established for sale in the United States. The Veterans of Foreign Wars put forth the first nationwide distribution of remembrance poppies before Memorial Day in 1922. Today, the American Legion Auxiliary distributes crepe-paper poppies in exchange for donations at Memorial Day parades. The poppy was adopted as the official memorial flowers of the VFW at its national convention in 1922. With a shortage of real poppies, VFW officials used unemployed and disabled veterans to produce the artificial poppy. This idea was approved in 1923 and the first poppy factory was built in Pittsburgh, PA.
It was at this time that the VFW registered the name “Buddy Poppy” with the US Patent office as a tribute to their comrades who did not come home from the war or were scarred and crippled for life.