“The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them” — Czeslaw Milosz.
Docklands, East London, UK.
While walking on the University way towards the Gallions point (Royal docks) Peter replied, we wear it in the remembrance of those who fought and for all those who laid their lives during the First World War. In that cold evening, this thought had sent a shiver down to my spine.
On the same day, upon reaching home, I started to browse with two words: poppy and WW1. The internet search results landed me to the poem “In the Flanders fields” by John McCrae. I started to read the poem. The more I was reading, the more I was surrendering to emotions.
Although I was new on the land, the poetic words of John McCrae delivered at the funeral of his friend touched me deeply.
John McCrae[i] was a Canadian physician Lieutenant-colonel. He was born on November 30, 1872, in Guelph, Ontario. He wrote throughout his life and “In the Flanders fields” (the poem) is one of his popular poetic works, which he wrote on May 3, 1915, after evidencing his friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer funeral.
In the Great War and modern memory, Paul Fussell an American cultural and literary historian, author, and University Professor called the poem the most popular of the era[ii].
“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”. — By John McCrae.
International Symbol of remembrance
In 1918, An American Professor and humanitarian Ms Moina Belle Michael who is also known as the poppy lady, ideate to use poppies as a symbol of remembrance[iii]. On September 27, 1920, the poppy became the official flower of the American Legion family[iv] to memorialize the soldiers who fought and dies during the war.
In 1920, while attending a convention Madame Anna Guérin supported the proposal of selling the poppy flower, and raise the funds for the war veterans. Guerin was inspired to sell poppies in France. She had also traveled to Canada and the UK to make poppy popular.
In 1921, ahead of the Armistice day, field marshal and co-founder of the Royal British Legion; Douglas Haig[v], Ist Earl encouraged the use of poppy by selling the flowers and raise money for the welfare of War’s orphans. That year, 9 Million poppies were ordered and sold on 11 November — “Remembrance day”.
The popularity of poppies grew over time and it had become an enduring symbol. Usually, the Poppy was worn without leaves attached to it. But In 1960, to make poppy sprays, five silk poppies were attached to 7 pieces of green fern, which bought the (optional) use of leaves in practice.
In 1995, the poppy symbol with leave was made available for sale and distribution by the volunteers. Poppy is usually red because that is the natural color of the flower[vi]. The black, white, and purple poppy (color) are also worn by the people for specific message and remembrance. Where black colored flowers commemorate the sacrifice of their social group members, White-colored flower mourns the dead and mark never-again, and purple was worn in the remembrance of animal lives lost in the war.
First human connection on foreign land.
It was 23.50 by now and I missed dinner that night. My eyes were tired but I was standing tall- in respect to all those laid their lives for a peaceful future. This had also made me realize that how similar the feelings, emotions, and inspirations the foreign culture carries to my own understanding. That was the moment when I first felt connected to the new land and had gained the superordinate identity of me; the identity of belonging to a (just) human culture, beyond the social and political boundaries.
Today’s poppy appeal AND THE KHADI POPPY.
British legion (a UK Charity) runs a poppy appeal[vii], in which volunteers, members, and poppy appeal collectors engage to make poppy pins available for the public and raise funds through various social activities including running, walk, and jogging.
More than 1.3 million soldiers of undivided India fought the First World War from which 74000 had sacrificed their lives. In a war between the central powers and the allied powers, the role of South Asian soldiers was untold. The use of Poppy as a symbol of remembrance was not much known in the Indian diaspora until recently when a “Khadi” poppy made out of cotton were used to pay tribute. In an interview with the bbc [viii], Lord Gadhia — Royal British Leign Ambassador called the use of Khadi poppy as a symbol of India’s self-reliance.
Poppy is an emotion, connection and the tribute.
JS Dhaliwal (Mr)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
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