The Poppy, Symbol of Remembrance
The first Remembrance Day poppy
The adoption of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance has international origins. The first person to use it this way was Moina Michael, a member of the staff of the American Overseas YMCA in the last year of the war. Michael read McCrae's poem and was so moved that she composed one of her own in response. She recalled later: "In a high moment of white resolve, I pledged to keep the faith and always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and the emblem of 'keeping the faith with all who died.'"
Consequently, she led a successful campaign to have the American Legion recognize the poppy as the official symbol of remembrance in April 1920. At the same time, Madame Anne Guerin, of France, inspired both by McCrae's poem and by Moina Michael's example, also became a vigorous advocate of the poppy as the symbol of remembrance for war dead. Her own organization, the American and French Children's League, sold cloth copies of the flower to help raise money to re-establish war-devastated areas in Europe.
In 1921, Guerin travelled to Britain and Canada on behalf of the poppy and convinced both the recently formed British Legion and the Canadian Great War Veterans Association (a predecessor of the Canadian Legion) to adopt the poppy as their symbol of remembrance as well. The first 'Poppy Day' in both countries occurred on 11 November 1921. The Returned Soldiers League in Australia adopted the poppy as its symbol of remembrance the same year.
For the first year, these artificial poppies were bought from Guerin's organization in France. By 1922, however, the various countries had started manufacturing them at home. In Canada, they were made by Vetcraft shops, run by the Department of Soldiers Civil Re-establishment and staffed by disabled soldiers. After its formation in 1925, the Canadian Legion (known as the Royal Canadian Legion since 1959) has run the poppy campaign in Canada.
An early edition of the Legion's magazine, The Legionary, explained the significance of buying poppies made by Vetcraft, as opposed to commercially available copies, as follows: "The disabled veterans in Vetcraft and Red Cross workshops are creating true memorials, while a poppy replica produced under ordinary commercial competitive conditions is nothing more nor less than an artificial flower."
The artificial poppy continues to flourish as the symbol of remembrance in the week leading up to the official commemorations on November 11. Today, millions of Canadians wear the bright red emblem to remember and honour the many thousands of their fellow Canadians who have died in war.