2017-11-10 / Viewpoint

Red poppies keep the faith with all who died in battle

The poppy flower seeds need light to grow, so when they are buried in the earth, they can lay dormant for decades without blooming. Once soil is disturbed and the seeds come to light, poppies nobody knew existed can bloom. During World War I, this phenomenon took place in Flanders Fields, a part of Belgium where the Battles of Ypres took place. The soil was torn up by miles of trenches and pocked by bombs and artillery fire and was where hundreds of thousands of Soldiers breathed their last and Flanders Fields became mass cemeteries.

Lt. Col. John McCrae, visited the site and noticed red poppies growing near one of the cemeteries and wrote what is a now the well-known poem, “In Flanders Fields,” about the existence of poppies in the cemetery. It encourages people to take up the torch in honor of their fallen countrymen and became a powerful recruiting tool for the Allies.

Moina Michael of Athens, Georgia read Mc- Crae’s poem and was moved by the last verse, “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, through poppies grow in Flanders Field.” She vowed to wear a red poppy every day until she died. After the war, Athens and the University of Georgia became a hub for Veteran rehabilitation and as part of the treatment Michael’s helped Veterans to make paper poppies for sale to raise funds for war victims. Red poppies began to appear not just on posters encouraging people to sign up for the Army or to buy war bonds, but in ceremonies honoring the war dead. To this day, it is still a symbol of keeping the faith with all who died in battle.

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