The ANZAC Poppy

The ANZAC Poppy

The red poppy has become a symbol of war remembrance the world over. People in many countries wear the poppy to remember those who died in war or who still serve. In many countries, the poppy is worn around Armistice Day (11 November), but in New Zealand it is most commonly seen around Anzac Day, 25 April.

 

The red or Flanders poppy has been linked with battlefield deaths since the time of the Great War (1914–18). The plant was one of the first to grow and bloom in the mud and soil of Flanders. The connection was made, most famously, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in his poem ‘In Flanders fields’. ‘In Flanders fields’.

 

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.

 

McCrae was a Canadian medical officer who, in May 1915, had conducted the funeral service of a friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres (Ieper). Distressed at the death and suffering around him, McCrae scribbled the verse in his notebook. In a cemetery nearby, red poppies blew gently in the breeze – a symbol of regeneration and growth in a landscape of blood and destruction.

 

McCrae threw away the poem, but a fellow officer rescued it and sent it on to the English magazine Punch; ‘In Flanders fields’ was published on 8 December 1915. Three years later, on 28 January 1918, McCrae was dead. As he lay dying, he is reported to have said ‘Tell them this, if ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep’.

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