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Honoring our veterans with poppies

field
© Havana1234 | Dreamstime.com

The poppy, a small red and black flower that grows wild in many parts of the world, has become a customary symbol of remembrance and respect for soldiers who gave up their lives in combat. Whether made of paper, silk, or beads, a red poppy worn as a brooch (or tucked into a lapel) has become commonplace on certain commemorative days in many places around the world.

The origin of this lovely tradition dates back to the early 20th Century. A Canadian doctor named John McCrae fought for the Allies during World War I, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and seeing action mainly in Belgium. He died of pneumonia near the end of the war but left behind a legacy in the form of the poem "In Flanders Field." The poem, published in Punch magazine in December 1915, was composed in honor of a soldier who fell at the infamously violent campaign known at the Second Battle of Ypres, the first time that chemical weapons were used in battle. McCrae referenced the fields of poppies that bloomed across many of the worst battlefields of WWI, and his imagery quickly captured the the imagination of the world. 

Today considered a classic of Canadian literature, the poem was used during the war in efforts to sell bonds and in other pro-military propaganda. An American professor, Moina Michael, wrote another poem in response, called “We Shall Keep the Faith.” She called for the symbolic poppy to always be worn in remembrance of fallen soldiers, and the custom was quickly adopted by the American Legion Auxilliary. The Auxiliary made and sold silk poppies to raise funds to support disabled servicemen, beginning in 1921. The tradition continues, carried on by not just the American Legion but many other service organizations that support military personnel around the globe. 

lapel
A poppy worn in a lapel as a traditional show of respect. 
© Elenathewise | Dreamstime.com

Today, the custom extends to celebrating the memory of soldiers of all wars. November 11, the date the armistace ending the First World War was signed between the Allies and Germany, is a date designated by many countries to honor their veterans of combat. In the US, this commemoration is called Veteran's Day; in the UK and other British Commonwealth nations, it is referred to as Armistace Day. The wearing of poppies (and the laying of poppies at war memorials) is widely practiced around that date in Canada, Australia, and the UK.

memorial
A glorious array of poppies left at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia. 
© Lukefourfour | Dreamstime.com

In Canada, November 11 is celebrated as Remembrance Day, a memorial that evolved from Armistice Day. In the UK, the somber occasion takes place on the Sunday nearest Nov. 11 and is referred to as Remembrance Sunday.  In Australia and New Zealand, in addition to Nov. 11, poppies are also worn on Anzac Day (April 25), their own national day of remembrance for those fallen in combat.

In the US, poppies are more traditionally worn on Memorial Day (observed annually on the last Monday in May), but it is not uncommon to see the bright spot of red on lapels in November as well. The crepe paper poppies distributed by the American Legion on this day are often made by veterans themselves as a part of their therapeutic rehabilitation from war injuries. 

poppy project
A beaded poppy created by Kerrie Slade.
The poppies sold by various charities and legions around the world are customarily made from paper. But if you are interested in making your own lovely version that could be worn year after year, see our project by Kerrie Slade that pulls lovely beaded poppies into a charming bracelet. By sewing a pinback to a single flower, you can create a commemorative brooch that can be worn in honor of a fallen soldier in a lovely show of dignity and respect.
FIND MORE: beads , bead weaving , brooches

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