When you think of WWI memorials, one of the first images that comes to mind is the ubiquitous red poppy flower.
How did a flower come to represent one of the bloodiest wars in history?
The poppy as a symbol of The Great War has a bit of a complicated start. The common poppy flower (or the corn poppy) wasn’t known to be a native species to the European theatre prior to the start of the war. As it turns out, poppy seeds can lay hidden under the soil for upwards of 80 years without blooming. Through the first instance of modern warfare, the fields of Europe were decimated and turned by trench warfare and the use of vehicles on untouched terrain. The result of this churning and movement of the earth caused 80-year-old poppy seeds to become unearthed and bloom with exposure to sunlight.
In 1915 Canadian soldier John McCrae witnessed one of these poppy fields in Flanders, Belgium. He was so moved by the sight that he wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields”, which sparked international sympathy and nationalism. It is because of this poem that poppies are seen as a commemoration to the Great War.
The poppy is a symbol that reminds us of the true horrors of war, and beckons us to remember those 8.5 million who died on fields of battle during the first modern war. Every year you will see veterans hand out thousands of paper or silk poppies to honor all those who were lost in WWI and WWII.