Posted by: madkentdragon | October 2, 2010

A Potted History of the Poppy and the Poppy Appeal


In 1915 a Canadian Medical Officer, John Macrae had to officiate at some of the burials at the field hospital known as Essex Farm in Belgium. Among those being buried was a friend of his and it is thought that this event inspired the writing of the poem “In Flanders Field”, a year later Macrae was also killed.

I visited this site on a damp May morning and looked at the “Field Hospital” which was no more than a couple of caves which had water laying in the bottom of them! Thank goodness conditions have improved and field hospitals can do a lot more than amputate a limb to save a life. Back then there were no antibiotics nor much anaesthetic and most died.

The poem was published and Moina Bell Michael, an American teacher wrote a reply to the poem as she worked in France in a hostel. She then took the idea of the Poppy back to America and the first ever Poppy Appeal was held there, assisted by Madame Guerin who took the money back to assist the French wounded.

Madame Guerin then imported the idea to Britain, however the newly formed British Legion asked for the money to stay in Britain to help the British Injured. This did not happen and so in 1922 Major Howson was given £2,000 to set up a Poppy Factory with a few injured servicemen to start selling them in the UK. He was dubious about this and wrote to his parents:

“I have been given a cheque for £2,000 to make poppies with. It is a large responsibility and will be very difficult. If the experiment is successful it will be the start of an industry to employ 150 men. I do not think it can be a great success, but it is worth trying. I consider the attempt ought to be made if only to give the disabled their chance.”

Within a few months the number of employees had risen to 50, providing work and an income for many disabled veterans and their families and the Poppy Appeal had begun. Over the years the number of poppies has bloomed so that the amount raised is now over £30million per annum and is the main stay of the Benevolent Fund of the Royal British Legion.

With today’s modern medicine, many more lives are saved, but how many will need help into the future whether injured in body or mind? With other means of fundraising, the Royal British Legion spends up to £70million each year helping them in their day-to-day lives. Can you help by selling poppies? An hour or so makes a lot of difference!

And for a reminder:

In Flanders Fields

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.

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Responses

  1. Hi MadKentDragon – a thought provoking post and well written. I didn’t know that the poppy was first used in the States so I’ve learned something new today.

    Best regards,
    Glen


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