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In Flanders Fields: The Story Behind the Poppy

Olivia Hunchak

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The poppy; not only a symbol of remembrance for our fallen soldiers, but also a symbol of hope. A salute to those who gave their lives for our freedom and the reason our country is the way it is today. The story behind the poppy is truly remarkable. The red field poppy lay dormant in the soils of the battlefield in Ypres, Belgium. Never having the right growing conditions to bloom. That was until, the Great War struck in 1915, and the once peaceful countryside turned brutal with the footsteps of the war.

During the Great War, the landscapes of the battlefields lay bare, stripped of all life and leaving behind the devastation of rotting corpses and churned up earth. Our soldiers lived in the trenches, waiting days on end before the next crew arrived. Living among the field mice and scavenging rats. The fields and trenches lay full of bodies of friends, brothers, fathers, and enemies. Soldiers recall that through all the decay left from the war, during the gloomy days the Lark would sing high above the fog. Bringing the soldiers comfort during those long, cold, and miserable hours.

The shots of guns seized on the battle filed of Ypres in 1915. The field, once alive with bombs, bodies, and trenches, now lay barren. The last human remains buried in the grounds of the battlefield. In the spring of 1915 Ypres experienced an unusually warm spring. With the grounds still showing the devastation the war brought upon it, with the dug up earth now mixing with the warm spring, it created the perfect breeding ground for the common red field poppy to blossom. Soon these delicate flowers covered the once brutal battlefields, covering the makeshifts graves of soldiers that were lost on the front line.

The sight of these vivid red poppies caught the attention of one soldier in particular, an English Canadian by the name of John McCrae. McCrae had lost his friend Alexis Helmer on the morning of Sunday May 2nd. He courageously left his dug out and was instantly killed by a direct hit from an 8 inch German shell. John McCrae was a doctor for the soldiers at the time. Hearing news of his friends passing he retrieved Helmer’s remains and placed them in a sandbag before Helmer had a proper burial that evening. John McCrae conducted a simple service at the gravesite, reciting some passages from the Church of England’s, “Order of Burial of the Dead”.

Helmers death is said to be the inspiration behind McCrae’s now famous poem In Flanders Fields. The loss of his friend inspired him to write as it took his mind off the thoughts that clouded the minds of soldiers during the war. Many different stories circulate of where McCrae wrote his poem, and still to this day its place of origin has not been discovered.

McCrae spent months attempting to get his poem placed in a newspaper. He believed the world should see it, and know the sacrifices soldiers go through during time of war. In Flanders Fields was first published in England’s Punch magazine in December of 1915. Although, it took many tries to get his work published it now was tucked in the bottom corner of Punch, directly below a joke about the dentist’s office. Alas, it did not take long before citizens began to notice the poem and the significance it had. In Flanders Fields and information on the importance of the common red field poppy would soon plaster every billboard and radio station in the country. McCrae was able to see the uproar of support that the poppy and his work created before he passed away on January 28th, 1918 of pneumonia. His poem, that is still relevant today, shows us the hardship soldiers were put through, the sacrifices that they made, and why we should always remember them and all they accomplished for us.

It all began with a delicate red flower, blooming on the battlefield of Ypres, in a place commonly known as Flanders, and it changed the war and world forever. And with that, this Remembrance Day, we remember all those who gave their lives for us, who were fathers, brothers, husbands, and friends. And we commend the men and women serving in our armed forces today. And that is why, on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month. We thank our soldiers and commend the battles they went through.

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In Flanders Fields: The Story Behind the Poppy