Researched, compiled and brought up to date by Peter Radostits, so all Canadians can appreciate where our Flower of Remembrance comes from. I began to look into Remembrance Day and Our Poppy, as I became somewhat dismayed several years back when our Poppy was being used for other causes, for example;
Putting a flag in the middle of the Poppy
Putting ribbons of different colours in the middle of the Poppy
Changing the Poppy colour to pink, white or green.
We do not put Poppies on the Canadian Flag, so don't put a flag on our Poppy. Please do not alter the Poppy, leave it as issued.
Our Goal: "A Poppy for every Canadian".
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada Association Calgary & Vancouver Island Branches
"In Pace Paratus - In Peace Prepared"
Flower of Remembrance
Each year on November 11, in the tiniest village and in the largest city, before a simple cross of sacrifice or an impressive cenotaph, people from all walks of life gather to pay tribute to their war-dead and to say with their hearts that they remember.
It is Remembrance Day - a day of poignancy and grief, of glory and rededication, a day set aside to remember those who gave their lives that others might live. It is a day when Canada's 100,000 war dead live again in the hearts and minds of those who pause for a few moments out of their lives to pay homage. It is a day when sorrow mingled with pride is present for all the world to see. It is a day of names on bronze plaques, of chilling winds, of lowered flags, stirring bugle notes, of scarlet Poppies, of glittering medals, of saucy berets, of gnarled hands raised in salute, of proud-backed veterans, of wondering children, of old comrades reunited, of silver crosses and mothers' tears. It is a day of memories. It is a day when one need not look for the reason why.
Remembrance Day in Canada is a day of spiritual uplifting when old faces become young again as the mind travels back over the years. The crowds around cenotaphs and monuments, in the memorial halls and before the crosses of sacrifice are becoming smaller now, and it is a sad commentary on our times that but for the veterans the crowds would probably dwindle to mere groups. As one looks back on other years, then looks again today, one can but hope, not without reason that these smaller crowds do not mean what they seem to on the surface. Perhaps people still remember as strongly as before, only now they do their remembering in solitude, in their hearts, in their own way.
But there's one group of Canadians who will never forget their fallen comrades and many of whom still live within broken bodies, and that is the veterans. Strongest, perhaps in all the land in their feelings and Remembrance Day are the member of the Canadian Legion, for if one body of veterans in Canada has kept the spirit and intent of Remembrance Day alive, it is the Canadian Legion. Whether it be in a remote village in Northern Ontario, a fishing hamlet in Nova Scotia or a mining town in British Columbia; whether it be in co-coordinating the annual service at the National War Memorial in Ottawa or in assisting a small rural school in its simple ceremony in a tiny classroom, the veterans of the Legion continue to keep the flame of remembrance alight. To them, Remembrance Day and all connected with it epitomizes their avowed purpose - service to the veteran; honour the dead but remember the living.
It was in 1931, after continued representations from the Legion, that Parliament amended the Armistice Day Act so that November 11 could be set aside as a day distinct and apart from any other observance upon which the nation could pay special tribute to those "who gave their lives that freedom might prevail."
The amendment was simple but meaningful:
"Throughout Canada in each and every year, the eleventh day of November, being the day in the year one thousand nine hundred and eighteen on which the Great War was triumphantly concluded by an armistice, shall be a holiday and shall be kept and observed as such under the name of Remembrance Day."
To this day, the Legion has resisted all attempts to abolish Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday. A resolution was passed urging that representations be made to the Dominion Government to continue the observance of Remembrance Day as a national holiday on November 11. Two reports triggered this resolution. The Federal Civil Service Commission had recommended that Remembrance Day no longer be observed as a public holiday in the civil service, and reports from provincial commands indicated that a great many commercial and industrial establishments no longer observe Remembrance Day.
It appears certain that if the Legion relaxes its vigil, Remembrance Day could become a thing of the past. It is a strange trait of human nature that people can forget the things that mean most to them. Surely, if Remembrance Day itself was ever to be forgotten, then the reasons for it - the bloody sacrifices, the dead and the maimed, and possibly the veteran himself - would be forgotten along with it.
Canada's first national Remembrance Day service held on Parliament Hill in the days before the National War Memorial was completed. It is interesting to note, too, that no fewer than 50,000 persons, including 2000 members of the Legion, attended that service. The ceremony, indeed, was typical of all the others that have followed it since in the nation's capital.
In 1931, the men of the Legion turned out two thousand strong, the greatest parade since the war. It was not a mere gesture however, for every man wore over his medals a Poppy. In remembering the dead with Poppies, the Ottawa veterans thought also of the living. The Poppies thy wore in remembrance of comrades 'gone West', in aid of the disabled veterans who made the Poppies, and assistance for the distressed
"So it was with the people of Ottawa. Poppy Day had been held the previous day and many who missed buying them then, bought them as they went up the Hill.
"The Remembrance Day ceremony was beautiful in its simplicity. On the platform were the dignitaries of Church and State. On guard were the men of the Army, Navy and Air Service, with a Nursing Sister standing before the cenotaph."
It is much the same today, the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa; only now there is one important addition - the Silver Cross Mother who on that November morning each year represents all of Canada's motherhood who gave their sons to the cause of freedom. No scene is more poignant, no deeper or more solemn than when this Mother from some part of Canada slowly walks, often pain-in her eyes to the base of the great memorial which honours Canada's dead. All the Mothers of the land who gave their sons and daughters, walk with her; for she, for those few, sacred moments personify them.
"On Remembrance Day our thoughts are with those who gave their lives in WWI, WWII, Korea, Afghanistan and Peacekeeping Duties, or who are still suffering from its consequences. It is our duty to hold them in remembrance, for they were the pioneers on the same road as we are threading today. We are fighting the same war, for the same sacred cause - the cause of liberty, of democracy, of human brotherhood. So let us remember our predecessors and our duty to old comrades- in- arms."
Frequent reference has been made in the foregoing to the Poppy in discussing Remembrance Day. This is because the Poppy and Remembrance Day are irrevocably bound together by the belief that the memory of fallen comrades can best be honoured by ensuring that none of their comrades still living shall be allowed to suffer want and distress.
In modern times the Poppy has become known as the flower of remembrance - full circle from its Oriental origin as the flower of forgetfulness. Much of the history of the world, and man in it, can be contrasted with the change of symbolism.
Contrary to general belief, the Poppy as a flower of civilization is not new. Its history dates back to antiquity when, in the mythology of one of the earliest of civilizations - that of China - it was known as the flower of forgetfulness, a reference to the state of dreamless sleep to be derived from the opium which could be distilled from the Poppy. It kept this meaning through the ages until the Napoleonic Wars when a perceptive writer, whose name has long since been forgotten, noted the intimate association the scarlet Poppy had had with the graves of those who had fallen in battle. He wrote that the fields of battle - Waterloo, Dettingen and other places, bare wastes before the conflicts - blossomed out after the engagement and the burial of the fallen into vast stretches of what to him were symbolic vistas of scarlet. These were the Poppies of Flanders.
That writer's observations were all but lost in the ensuing years and it wasn't until WWI that the symbolism was noted anew. In Flanders again, millions of men witnessed that singular phenomenon when from out of the torn and scorched earth, from between the graves and around the white crosses, sprang the scarlet Poppies as though Nature herself bled for the sacrifices of man.
It remained for a Canadian Lt.-Col John McCrae, to immortalize the Poppy and its symbolism in his poem 'In Flanders' Fields':
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 amidst 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 blow
In Flanders' fields
To John McCrae the Poppies covered the scars of war and seemed to bring the promise of a better day. Unconquered and unconquerable, the little scarlet flower to him was indicative of the Canadian soldier whose spirit, though torn from his body, pressed onward and upward, each succeeding wave of men gaining inspiration and impetus from those who previously and paid the supreme sacrifice in fulfilling their share of the common task.
Lt.-Col John McCrae himself died on 28 January 1918, of pneumonia and meningitis while commanding a Canadian General Hospital in France, thus joining the dead of his immoral poem. But his words lived on and have continued to live through the years. It is doubtful if the poem or the inspirational message of it will ever die. Certainly so long as there remains alive a single member of the Canadian Legion, faith will be kept with those who died or, just as important, with those who still live. From its inception the Legion faced and accepted the challenge of those simple words in the battlefield poem and over the years has adopted the symbol of the Poppy as its own.
"To him (Lt.-Col John McCrae) the Poppy became the symbol of the immortal dead. It is therefore natural that in the course of time, when the fury of war had spent itself, this symbol should be established as a permanent memorial in the hearts and minds of those who survived the conflict. It was no less natural that on the anniversary of the conclusion of the struggle, this symbol should bind an outward expression. And thus was created the little Poppy replicas which on each Armistice Day anniversary the people of many nations wear a`The Flower of Remembrance'."
For many years the popular belief held that a French woman, Madame Guerin, was the first to conceive the idea of wearing a Poppy for remembrance. Actually, it was an American, Miss Moina Michael. While working in a Y.M.C.A. canteen in New York in 1918, she originated the custom when she decided to remember those who gave their lives by wearing a Poppy at all times. Apparently Madame Guerin visited the United States in 1920 and was told the story of Miss Michael and the Poppy. (The Poppy replica was first used widely in the United States on Decoration Day in 1920.
When Madame Guerin returned to France she decided to use Miss Michael's idea as a means of raising money to help the French children suffering in the war-torn areas of her country. In 1921 she went to England where she presented the Poppy idea to officials of the British Legion. At that time the British Legion was seeking some means of raising funds for needy ex-servicemen. Field-Marshal Earl Haig had tried several methods but none had proved successful. Madame Guerin's was submitted to Earl Haig who, instinctively realizing its possibilities, set in motion the organization to handle the program. Legion officials had but six weeks in which to prepare for Armistice Day, but in the first British Poppy Day appeal in 1921 a total of 106, 000 pounds was realized.
The same year, Madame Guerin visited Canada and at a meeting of the Great War Veterans Association at Port Arthur in July, 1921, again presented her idea of the remembrance Poppy. The G.W.V.A. readily accepted the suggestion thatthe Poppy be worn on the anniversary of Armistice Day and, on November 11, 1921 Poppies made by the women and children of France were distributed in Canada for the first time, under the sponsorship of the G.W.V.A.
Thus, while Poppies for the first campaign were purchased in France, by1922thefirst British Legion Poppy factory was started. In Canada, in the same year, the Poppy Day plan was linked with the Vetcraft Shops operated by the Department of Soldiers' Civil Re-Establishment under an arrangement that provided for the entire manufacture by disable veterans.
"The distribution of these symbolic flowers each year is the means of accumulating funds in local centers which serve the splendid purpose of bringing relief to the distressed and disabled among those who fought and their dependents. War's ravaging hand left marks on the hearts and bodies of practically every veteran who wore the uniform. Many have been fortunate enough to have had sufficient strength to rise above this condition. Others have fought a losing battle, although with few exceptions every veteran has made a courageous effort to overcome the handicap. Pensions and treatment provisions have helped thousands, but it is the veteran with the invisible disability-the veteran who bears no outward scars and who apparently came through unimpaired - that requires sympathetic aid from comrades. Poppy replicas are not sold, but citizens are given an opportunity at the time of the annual distribution to contribute of their means towards this great purpose. Thus the Flanders Poppy brings 'aid for the living from the dead'."
In 1925 the Poppy was adopted as the universal emblem of remembrance of the British Empire at a conference of the British Empire Service League at Ottawa. The following year the newly-organized Canadian Legion assumed sponsorship of the distribution of the Poppies in Canada. With unity all but guaranteed, the Legion sough to give added effect to the meaning of the Poppy and pointed out that " the veterans of Canada , through the Legion, are in a better position to examine the problems of the less fortunate among their numbers and, undeterred by partisan considerations as in other days, can make better use of the means at their hand for alleviation of deserving cases."
Cost of the Poppies to the public is left strictly a matter of personal decision, as it has from the plan's inception.
"This is the challenge: to set your sights on achieving the greatest possible participation by individual Legion members and auxiliaries in carrying the Poppy emblems to every citizen that can be reached by personal contact. In this way we may come closer to realizing our "A Poppy for every Canadian" obligations to the dead and those they left behind.
Miss Michael, who conceived the idea of using the Poppy as a symbol of remembrance, projected Lt.-CoI. John McCrae's stirring message in a poem of her own. With McCrae's theme as the basis for her thoughts, she wrote "The Victory Emblem":
The Victory Emblem
Oh! You who sleep in Flanders' fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew
We caught the torch you threw
And, holding high, we keep Faith
With those who died.
We cherished, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valour led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a luster to the red
Of flowers that bloom above the dead
In Flanders' fields
And now the torch and poppy red
We wear in honour of our dead
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We've learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders' fields
The Legion today can truly say that it has kept faith.