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Wearing a Poppy

Why do we wear poppies?

The reason poppies are used to remember those who have given their lives in battle is because they are the flowers which grew on the battlefields after World War One ended.

The second battle of Ypres took place between April 21 and May 25, 1915. The battle is most remembered for two things. Most horribly, it was the time poison gas was used against enemy combatants. The second was the writing of a poem that became one of the most famous literary results of the war. On May 2, a young Canadian artillery officer, Lt. Alexis Helmer, was killed by a shell while serving in the same unit as his friend, a Canadian military doctor, Major John D. McRae. That evening, with the chaplain of the unit called away, McRae was asked to officiate at a burial service. At some point after that (accounts differ), McRae penned the short poem “In Flanders Fields,” which was published before the end of the year and widely reprinted. The opening poignantly evokes the countless dead lying in makeshift cemeteries, but it builds to a climactic call for comrades left behind to “take up our quarrel with the foe.”  After the War, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance.

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

Two years after the poem was written, through a mutual friend, McRae sent a copy of the poem to John Philip Sousa, whose marches had made him world famous, requesting that he set it to music. Sousa received the poem in July 1917. He had just mailed the final corrected proofs of the song to his publisher G. Schirmer when he read in a newspaper of the death of McRae of cerebral meningitis while still serving in France.

It would be appropriate to wear a poppy on November 11th
Wearing poppies started as a British tradition but has become an American form of showing remembrance and respect. The red poppy is a nationally recognized symbol of sacrifice worn by Americans since World War I to honor those who served and died for our country in all wars. It reminds Americans of the sacrifices made by our veterans while protecting our freedoms. Wear a poppy to honor those who have worn our nation’s uniform.

The positioning of the poppy can also cause some confusion. Many say the poppy should be worn on one’s left to be close to the heart, as well as the side of military medals. Others say men should wear it on the left and women on the right, just like the Queen. The Royal British Legion, however, told BBC: “There is no right or wrong way to wear a poppy. It is a matter of personal choice whether an individual chooses to wear a poppy and also how they choose to wear it.

“The best way to wear a poppy is to wear it with pride.”

The generally accepted way is to wear the poppy on the left side on the lapel over the heart.

You can find poppies online. Amazon has some nice ceramic ones but best to order soon…


  1. Tapsbugler Tapsbugler Post author | April 21, 2019


  2. Marie Mize Marie Mize April 21, 2019

    Very nice article. Just wanted to let you know the rest of the story. In 1918 Moina Michael was inspired by John McCrae’s poem. Ms Moina answered with a poem entitled “We Shall Keep the Faith.” She also vowed to wear a poppy as a symbol of remembrance. She started a campaign which led to the American Legion to adopt the poppy as a symbol of remembrance in 1921. She has been called “The Poppy Lady.”

    Many people carried Ms Moina’s idea overseas most notably Anna Guerin. These two women are most responsible for the wearing of the poppies today.

    Again, thanks for helping tell people about the poppy.
    Marie Mize
    Director, Moina Michael Poppy Project

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