It’s that time of year again: The time when small paper flowers pop up in shops, civil buildings, and street corners in exchange for a small donation to charity, but what do these tokens actually mean?
It is important to remember the origin of the red poppy. The poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ was written by John McCrae, a medic, to commemorate his fallen comrades. It is not about the rage of war, but the aftermath, the red peace which arose from the graves left behind in Northern France. McCrae started to compose the poem shortly after burying a 22-year-old student who had been killed by a German shell.
The poppy was subsequently adapted by a professor from the University of Georgia, who was so moved by the poem she went out and bought all the artificial red poppies she could find before deciding to create a memorial poppy made from the colours of the Allied Flags. The Red Poppy was adopted by the British Legion later, in 1921. Like the memory of those who have fallen, the significance of the poppy has not withered or faded over the years.
The wearing of a poppy has caused controversy over the years, with some drawing the connotations of a red flower of blood and therefore war rather than loss. This was far from McCrae’s portrayal of the poppy marking the graves of the young men who had died.
More recently, the poppy has been blamed as being a political symbol promoting war – and, to some, the unnecessary loss of life. As such, alternative poppies have been appearing for those who choose not to display a red poppy around Armistice Day. The most popular of these is the white poppy. White, connotating purity and therefore signifying peace and a commitment of the individual to stop war and the losses before the need for remembrance.
The inspiration for the symbolic poppy, In Flanders Fields, was a response to the shock and brutality of war. Regardless of our politics, it is our obligation to don this small token in remembrance of all those who have died in conflict. No child who understands the meaning of remembrance is inspired to take up arms. Flanders Fields was a massive military failure, where a million soldiers from more than 50 different countries were killed, wounded, or missing in action. The poppy, therefore, is a symbol of sacrifice and the furthest thing from glorifying war.