Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day

Ever wonder why poppies have come to symbolize Armistice Day? It's all because of Belgium, or more specifically, a Canadian physician serving in Belgium during WWI. As the story goes, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote a poem in 1915 called In Flanders Fields after witnessing the death of his friend. The first line and second to last lines of his poem mention the poppies that grew in droves on the battlefields of Flanders, some say as a result of the thousands of corpses that fertilized the soil. Published in England while The Great War was still being fought, In Flanders Fields became a symbol of WWI and quite possibly that war's most famous poem, and the poppy became the war's symbol of remembrance.

In Flanders Fields By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian Army

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.

Armistice Day (also known as Rememberance Day, and known as Veterans Day in the United States) is celebrated on November 11th by much of Western Europe. It marks the day in 1918 when the WWI Allies and Germany signed an agreement to end hostilities on the Western Front. Sadly, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae never lived to see the end of the war that killed his friend and inspired him to write his famous poem. He died on January 28th, 1918 of pneumonia.


Greg Wesson said...

Beautiful poem. We always had to recite it on Rememberance Day in school. It didn´t really mean much until I went to Lille an Ypres this year and saw the battlefields and graveyards associated with the numerous battles of the Somme. WWI and a number of the battles that the Canadian forces fought there, including Passendale and Vimy Ridge went a long way to creating a nationally identity for our young country.

Tanya said...

@Greg, Isn't it touching? Brings tears to my eyes. Going to try to get to Ypres before I leave Belgium.

Zhu said...

I really should have known that! I had no idea.

Do people wear poppies pins on their jackets in France as well? I can't remember!

Tanya said...

@Zhu, Yes, they do wear poppies in France as well, but in true French fashion they don't wear the red Belgian poppies everyone else wears. They wear their own special blue French poppies :-)