The poppy - papaver rhoeas -has been in the news this past week here in England; it even made the front page headline in my morning paper one day. All because next year will see the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. There has been an amount of almost half-hearted discussion about how best to commemorate that anniversary. One proposal was to give packets of poppy seeds to schools and other establishments to grow the flowers.
I learned this week from an article in the newspaper how the poppy came to be such an emotive symbol of remembrance. Actually, I was surprised to learn that the idea came from America - I had always thought that the poppy was a particularly British thing. But it seems that Moina Michael, an American lady, first had the idea even before the armistice in 1918. She was browsing a magazine in which was published John McCrae's poem, In Flanders Fields.
In Flanders fields the poppies blowMiss Michael immediately thought of using the poppy as a symbol of remembrance but had something of a struggle to get universal acceptance. However, in 1920, a French woman by the name of Madame Anna E Guérin happened to be in the USA and heard of the idea. Returning to France, she had artificial poppies made for sell to raise funds to help children orphaned in the war. The next year, she persuaded Field Marshal Earl Haig, President of the British Legion (now Royal British Legion) to take a supply of her poppies to raise money to use for the welfare of ex-servicemen.
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.
The British Legion ordered 9 million and sold the first a few seconds after midnight on 11 November 1921. The asking price was 3d, but by next morning, a single petal was selling for £5. The sum of £106,000 was raised that year, the equivalent of nearly £30 million today.