There is a curious irony in that one of the most universal uses of “silk” or paper flowers is the famous Poppy worn by millions throughout the world on Remembrance Sunday to honour those fallen in battle and to symbolise hope and peace amongst conflict.
“In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow”
Lt.Colonel John McCrae, Canadian Army.
In 1915 amidst the mud torn and battle scarred fields, the little red poppy (Papaver Rhoeas) flourished even in the middle of the fiercest fighting. When a friend of McCrae’s, Lt.Alex Helmer, was killed at Ypres, he wrote the now world famous poem “In Flanders’ Fields”, which he submitted to The Spectator in December of that year (who declined it) and then to Punch Magazine who published it.
The poem caught the imagination of an American academic Moina Michael, who was inspired to make and sell silk poppies to honour the fallen of the First World War.
The poppies were an instant success in America in 1920? And in 1921 a French woman called Anna Guérin brought the poppies to England and the rest is history. In that year millions were sold on November 11 and £106,000 were sold for the British, now Royal British, Legion which looked after those and had served and survived but suffered greatly and were disabled, sometimes unemployed and often homeless.
The following year, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory to employ disabled ex-Servicemen. Today, the factory and the Legion’s warehouse in Aylesford, near Maidstone in Kent, produces millions of poppies each year. In England, the poppy sports two petals and a leaf and there is always controversy as to which shoulder to wear it on and the position of the leaf.
Over the border with few poppies reaching the North due to the huge popularity of the symbol in England, The Countess of Haig, the wife of Field Marshal Earl Haig, founded the Lady Haig Poppy Factory in 1926, producing poppies exclusively for Scotland,
Over 5 million Scottish poppies (which have four petals and no leaf unlike poppies in the rest of the UK) are still made by hand by disabled ex-Servicemen at Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory each year and distributed by its sister charity Poppy Scotland.
Lt. Colonel MaCrae became the Consulting Physician for the British Forces but sadly died on 28th January 1918 of pneumonia.
So here is an imitation flower made and sold in millions throughout the Commonwealth and Canada and truly the flower of international co-operation in the name of honour and hope for peace.
The bespoke arrangement pictured in this post uses silk poppies together with real laurel and green oak (Ilex) foliage; a good example of how useful “silk” flowers can be when the real flowers are not in season, and the arrangements have to last some weeks.
Truly the poppy represents the wish of those men who fought for peace, resilient and tough even in the worst of times in their quest for world peace.
McCrae let the fallen have the last say in the poem, and let us not forget that this was the war to end all wars and fought for peace and honour:
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.
This is a long post, but it was difficult to ignore the stirring story behind one of our most cherished emblems: The Poppy. Long the symbol of sleep and dreams, poppies continue to blow and larks continue to so bravely sing, so long as we hold faith and continue to honour those fallen and to seek for hope and peace.