It is small and red. It is worn on 11 November every year across Britain and other English-speaking countries, and has been a tradition since the end of the First World War. It’s called a poppy, but what is the actual meaning behind this flower?
Since 1920, this day has been a national day of remembrance in the British Empire. On Remembrance Day, Armistice Day or Poppy Day (as the day is variously called), which is comparable to the German Memorial Day, the small, red poppy is worn to remember and respect the fallen of the two great world wars.
In the weeks before the day of remembrance, artificial poppies are made and sold everywhere by The Royal British Legion, a charity dedicated to war veterans, and the flower was chosen because scores of them flowered in the former battlefields of Belgium and northern France. However, it is thought the poppy connection to remembrance goes back to the Napoleonic wars.
A Canadian officer, John McCrae, wrote a poem in 1915 in memory of his best friend who lost his life. The famous poem “In Flanders Fields” reminds everyone of the fields soaked with the blood of the soldiers.
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.
In England, a two-minute silence is held at 11 a.m. every 11 November and in many cities a cannon shot is fired beforehand. Radios fall silent during this time and employees also take part in the silence.
In 2014, 888,246 ceramic poppies, each intended to commemorate a serviceman who was killed, formed a public installation in the moat of The Tower of London. This commemorated 100 years since the outbreak of World War 1. It was entitled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”.