Unlike most of Britain’s hardy annuals, the red poppies of Flanders Fields blossom in November. You can’t miss them; they’re made of paper and everyone appears to be wearing one, tucked into a lapel or pinned in place on breast or chest.
You’ll also certainly have been told the red poppies are purchased by the wearers, and the money goes to the British Legion – the military veterans’ organization that provides support and welfare for ex-service personnel and their families.
There’s even a Poppy Day, more formally termed Remembrance Day, when, at 11 a.m. on 11th November, a two-minute silence is observed to commemorate all those who sacrificed their lives on behalf of Great Britain.
Armistice Day 2014 occurs on Tuesday, which is a normal working day but this year perhaps more than in the past, at 11 a.m. London will be for a couple of minutes a bit quieter than usual. You may notice taxis will pull over to the side of the road; till operators in supermarkets will pause and outside some businesses staff will hold a brief assembly. At memorial sites, at Westminster Abbey and beside the stunning field of red ceramic poppies adorning the flanking walls and moat around the Tower of London there are certain to be thousands or people remembering the fallen.
On Sunday 9 November, you can join the crowds thronging Whitehall, where the Queen, prominent politicians and representatives of the Commonwealth to lay wreaths of poppies at the Cenotaph war memorial, opposite Downing Street.
The British Legion’s poppy selling began in 1922 but the symbol was originally associated with a memorial poem written in 1915 by Captain John MacCrae. a Canadian doctor serving with the British forces in the front line trenches in Flanders during the First World War.
He scribbled down the verse after being upset by the death in battle of a very close friend and referred to the flower in the final line. Though associated with narcotics, for MacCrae the red poppy was a visual metaphor, directly associated with the aftermath of a heavy artillery barrage when dormant poppy seeds were disturbed and germinated – and millions of blood-red blossoms carpeted the shell-churned soil of no-man’s land.
In Flanders Field
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 amid 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 grow
In Flanders fields.