Thursday, November 7, 2013

Though Poppies Grow

King's Cross Station

If you're in London, you'll have seen men and women walking around for weeks now with poppies pinned to their lapels; Remembrance Sunday is this weekend, and everyone is showing their appreciation of those who have given their lives for peace and freedom.

Poppies have been associated with the fallen ever since World War I, when John McCrae, a Canadian amy surgeon, wrote In Flanders Fields from the mud of France in 1915, and the poppy came to represent the immeasurable sacrifices made by his brothers in arms.


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.


Did you know that poppies grow naturally in disturbed earth?  They covered the war-torn battlefields of Europe after World War I, waving their bloody petals across the ravaged ground where so many died.  The Royal British Legion took up the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance in 1920, and it's been used to encourage support for the troops ever since.

Jon's at King's Cross today, heading up that branch of the Poppy Appeal, and he's promised to send me photos to share with you.  (The one at the top of this post is from early this morning.)  Even during the chaos of rush hour at a busy station, it's incredibly poignant to pause for a minute to have a flower pinned to your lapel.  If you're in England and you see men and women in uniform (or volunteers like Jon and his friends) handing out poppies, please do stop to thank them and to support the Armed Forces and their families.  And, no matter where you are, take a moment to remember of those who have given their lives for us.

If you're in London and want to help with the Poppy Appeal next year, let me know and I'll put you in touch with Jon and others who organize the day.  I volunteered a few years ago and it was an incredibly meaningful experience.


linking up with Postcards from Rachel and Lost in Travels for #ExpatDiaries

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25 comments:

  1. I love this post! Thanks for exposing this idea to an American audience! I never even thought to write about the Poppy Appeal. It became second nature to just start wearing one in my lapel and I don't think I ever explained it to my American friends and family, really. x

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  2. Agreed! What a beautiful remembrance. I love when I can learn something new from your blog, Betsy, and also remember to pause for a moment of gratitude for all those who have fallen in service of their country (no matter what country I'm from).

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  3. As a Canadian I especially love that you posted McCrae's poem. I had to memorize that a long time ago in public school. I always feel proud to wear my poppy.

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  4. Love this post - and love the solemness of Remembrance Day. We've lost so much of that here in the States. Right now it's all people over-supporting {hey veterans, come get your free stuff} or people looking for sales. The poppy is much more symbolic and poignant.

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  5. All the tube stations were lined with veterans and volunteers this morning! How lovely that Jon volunteers, I bet it's a really moving experience.

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  6. We wear the poppies in Canada as well and November 11 is also known as Remembrance Day for us. Like Kaitlyn below, we used to recite Flanders Field in school and thus, the poem carries quite a bit of meaning for us.


    The Poppy Appeal does sound like a very moving experience and a lovely way to volunteer.

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  7. then you will also love that I got most of my WWI history from LM Montgomery - Rilla of Ingleside is one of my favorite books!

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  8. it feels good when you stop noticing the cultural differences, doesn't it? like you're becoming a native :) loved it when that happened to me back in the day!

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  9. oh thank you Alicia! some of this stuff does become second nature, like Amanda said, but it's so meaningful when you consider where it all came from. the research part is fun for me!

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  10. as a civilian I'm not sure I can speak to the "over-supporting" bit, though I understand what you mean, but it is really lovely to distill the support into something so emotional and recognizable, you know?

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  11. haha I think it's more moving for him AFTER it's all over - they raised thousands and thousands last year, which is amazing but also a bit hectic!

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  12. I thought Remembrance Day was the same thing as Armistice Day, but apparently it's always the second Sunday in November in the UK (which I guess gets you as close to the 11th as possible). The whole country does a minute of silence at 11:11 on November 11 though!

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  13. We do the minute of silence at 11:11 as well but November 11 is also a National holiday.


    Every year, the day before the last school day before the 11th, schools do a Remembrance Day ceremony where we lay wreaths, have bag pipes play in veterans, listen to a few speeches, etc. The 1 minute of silence in the ceremony was torture as a kid as we knew how serious it was but the giggles always overtook someone and it'd be like dominoes - rows of little bodies shaking with laughter trying our hardest to hold it in.

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  14. I really don't think we as Americans understand in the same visceral way how terrible WWI was as so much of Europe and Canada (and even Australia) does. it just... didn't affect us as much as a nation, and that's sad.

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  15. The "over-support" issue is hard to define. We're all grateful that folks are supporting the troops, but somehow "support the troops" has transitioned from something that is appreciated into something that is just expected. I don't like seeing a culture of entitlement growing in the military that leads to service members boycotting establishments that don't offer a military discount, and I don't like people expecting to get free stuff wherever they go. It's one of those things that should move back into the realm from "it's great if you do it but it's okay too if you don't." Sorry for the long explanation. It's just something that really bugs me around this time of year.

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  16. I absolutely love this. A big thank you to Jon for showing his support for the Armed Forces!

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  17. I liked the poppies on people's cars there. It seemed like every Range Rover had a big red poppy on the front grill!
    Super cool that Jon volunteers for it. Like you said lower, to Jay, I noticed a much stronger connection to both WWs in Europe, and deservingly so. The US sent people over, but we don't live with buildings still bearing shell scars, and we didn't have a very realistic daily fear of our town/village/city being hit. Memorials are so much more prevalent there, even in the smallest village. It makes it feel much more recent than it ever did here.

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  18. yeah, you see them on all the black cabs!

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  19. In Poland, November 11 is Independence Day - representing a very, very different relationship to the same event in history. The first time I ever flew to London happened to be on 11.11.11, and I'll never forget the stark contrast of the way that day was represented in those two countries-- it underpinned my entire experience as an expat, i think!

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  20. I had no idea that poppies grew like that! Learn something new... x

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  21. Ahhh, remembrance day :) I had someone send me a poppy over from England this year so I can wear one with pride!

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  22. Love this post Betsy. I write about the military for the newspaper and Veterans Day is one of my favorite of days. To me, as many of the veterans have schooled me on over the years, Veterans Day is for the living while Memorial Day is for the dead, but I will always be moved by any meaningful and heartfelt tribute to troops. As the granddaughter of a WW2 and Korean veterans, with most of my family and boyfriend serving, it's a special day. And yesterday I interviewed a 91-year-old WW2 veteran who has two Purple Hearts and was one of two in his unit to survive and he was just the sweetest man. To, me there are few moments more precious then spending time with the men who were there and lived to tell about it.

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  23. Hi there, I'm hopping over from the link-up! I enjoyed reading about the meaning poppies hold...not until recently did I think about things flowers can express. I read a wonderful book called "The Language of Flowers" which is about a foster child's experience and communicating through flowers. Great post!

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  24. Oh, this is very informative. I'm a fan of the royals, and I've seen Kate wearing a poppy and wondered what it was for. This explains it.

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  25. Great post! I used to volunteer at different programs for vets in the USA so I'd love to go to London one day and help with the Poppy Appeal.

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