On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, in 1918, World War I was officially brought to an end, following the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany. Since that day, the world takes a moment every November to remember those who gave their lives for our country. The humble poppy has become a symbol of this momentous sacrifice, appearing on lapels across the country, a sign of the wearer’s gratitude. In readiness for Remembrance Day 2015, we’ve had a look at how the poppy became such a symbol.
It was in the fields of northern France and Belgium that some of the bloodiest battles of the Napoleonic and First World War took place. Through the fighting and the shelling, the land was quite literally torn apart, leaving behind a desolate wasteland where nothing grew. Nothing, except scarlet corn poppies which flourished in the churned up soil. Thousands of these brightly coloured flowers covered the land, turning the battlefields into a sea of red.
This natural occurrence provided inspiration for Canadian surgeon John McCrae who wrote the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ in 1915. McCrae writes “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row”. This powerful imagery inspired one women to start campaigning for the poppy to become a symbol of remembrance. This was Moina Ball Michael – aka The Poppy Lady – an American humanitarian, who started to sell artificial poppies to raise funds for ex-servicemen.
In November 1928, the very first Field of Remembrance was held in the grounds of Westminster Abbey. Only a couple of poppies were planted around a single cross in the grounds of St Margaret’s Church, in Westminster. But it began a tradition that has grown significantly over the decades.
2014 marked 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. Visual artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper were called upon to create a special memorial to make the occasion. Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was their creation, with the poppy taking centre stage.
On the 17th July, 2014, ceramic poppies slowly began to fill the moat around the famous Tower of London. Over the coming months, more poppies were planted, spilling out over the ground, until the last flower went in the ground on the 11th November. In total, there were 888,246 poppies, one for every British or Commonwealth soldier killed during the First World War. And in keeping with tradition, these poppies were sold, raising millions of pounds for several service charities.
Experience the memorial
If you weren’t among the five million people who made it to the Tower of London last year, never fear, there’s still a chance. Several locations of particular First World War significance have been selected to host parts of the display in the coming months:
St. George’s Hall, Liverpool
St George’s Hall, Liverpool was used during WWI to hold recruitment rallies with speakers including Lord Derby and Lord Kitchener who appealed for 100,000 men to sign up. The Weeping Window – the section of poppies pouring out of the window at the Tower of London – will be on display there from November to January 2016.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
The effects of WW1 was heavily felt across Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Regiment raised 24 Battalions served by 65,000 men, of whom 9,000 died. In tribute, the Wave section of the installation will be exhibited at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park from September until January 2016.
Grow and remember
This year, why not start your own tribute by planting a poppy garden? It’s a great way to get your children involved too. Flanders poppies are easy to grow and will create a lasting reminder in all gardens. Ideally sown in autumn or spring, here’s how:
- Choose an appropriate patch of your garden, where the soil is fine and moist and rake it over. Remove any stones and if you find any big lumps of soil, break them up with the back of your rake.
- Lay bamboo canes on the ground in a grid pattern. Each row should be 30cm apart. This way you’ll be able to sow your seeds evenly.
- Sow your seeds thinly along each of the rows – about 1.5mm deep – and then press down on the soil before watering.
- After a few weeks, seedlings should start to appear. Once they’re large enough to handle, thin your seedlings out to about 15-23cm apart.
No matter how you show your gratitude this Remembrance Day, don’t forget to buy a poppy. Remind your friends by sharing the history of the Remembrance Poppy on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.