The Poppy & Remembrance

  • Purpose and Objectives

  • Remembrance and History

  • Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

  • The Flower of Remembrance

  • A Symbol of Unity

  • The Lapel Poppy
  • Purpose and Objectives

    The mission of The Royal Canadian Legion is “to serve veterans and their dependants, to promote Remembrance,
    and to act in the service of Canada and its communities.” In essence, the purposes and objectives of the Legion
    were born of the need to further the spirit of comradeship and mutual assistance among all who have served and
    to never forget the deeds of the fallen. It is paramount that the Legion strives to pass on these goals and traditions
    to the families and descendants of our ex-service personnel and to raise this awareness among all Canadians.

    The major source of funding for the Legion to accomplish this most important work is the annual Poppy Campaign,
    the foundation of our Remembrance Program. It is the generosity of Canadians that enables the Legion to ensure
    that our veterans and their dependants are cared for and treated with the respect that they deserve. This November
    campaign, which sees Poppies distributed to Canadians of all ages, serves to perpetuate Remembrance by
    ensuring that the memory and sacrifices of our war veterans are never forgotten.

    The Legion also maintains a leading role in the creation and care of memorials to the contributions and valour of our
    veterans and ex-service members. We are deeply honoured and proud to accept the task of organizing Remembrance
    ceremonies throughout the country, including the National Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa. In addition,
    working in concert with other veterans’ organizations and the Canadian government, the Legion has vowed to ensure
    that the preservation of the records and memories of our fallen heroes and returning veterans continues in perpetuity.

    The Royal Canadian Legion was honoured to initiate and coordinate the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the
    Centennial in 2000 and to suggest the declaration of 2005 as The Year of the Veteran. These and other commemorative
    projects and activities led by The Royal Canadian Legion have been welcomed by Canadians who have never hesitated
    to demonstrate their support in acknowledging the debt that is owed to those who sacrifice so much. We repay this
    debt in our “Remembrance.”

    For The Fallen

    With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
    England mourns for her dead across the sea.
    Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
    Fallen in the cause of the free.

    Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
    Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
    There is music in the midst of desolation
    And a glory that shines upon our tears.

    They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
    Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
    They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
    They fell with their faces to the foe.

    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.

    They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
    They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
    They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
    They sleep beyond England's foam.

    But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
    Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
    To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
    As the stars are known to the Night;

    As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
    Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
    As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
    To the end, to the end, they remain.

    Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

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    The Poppy


    Remembrance Day shall remain and be reverently observed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of each year by us and our successors.


    Each November, Poppies blossom on the lapels and collars of over half of Canada’s entire population. Since 1921,
    the Poppy has stood as a symbol of Remembrance, our visual pledge to never forget all those Canadians who have
    fallen in war and military operations. The Poppy also stands internationally as a “symbol of collective reminiscence”,
    as other countries have also adopted its image to honour those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

    This significance of the Poppy can be traced to international origins.

    The association of the Poppy to those who had been killed in war has existed since the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century,
    over 110 years before being adopted in Canada. There exists a record from that time of how thickly Poppies grew over
    the graves of soldiers in the area of Flanders, France. This early connection between the Poppy and battlefield deaths
    described how fields that were barren before the battles exploded with the blood-red flowers after the fighting ended.

    Just prior to the First World War, few Poppies grew in Flanders. During the tremendous bombardments of that war, the chalk
    soils became rich in lime from rubble, allowing “popaver rhoes” to thrive. When the war ended, the lime was quickly absorbed
    and the Poppy began to disappear again.

    The person who was responsible more than any other for the adoption of the Poppy as a symbol of Remembrance in Canada
    and the Commonwealth was Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian Medical Officer during the First World War.

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    Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

    Lieutenant-Colonel McCrae was born on 30 November 1872 in Guelph, Ontario. At age 14, he joined the Highfield Cadet Corps
    and, three years later, enlisted in the Militia field battery. While attending the University of Toronto Medical School, he was a
    member of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.

    With Britain declaring war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Canada’s involvement was automatic. John McCrae was among the
    first wave of Canadians who enlisted to serve and he was appointed as brigade surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Forces Artillery.

    In April 1915, John McCrae was stationed near Ypres, Belgium, the area traditionally called Flanders. It was there, during the
    Second Battle of Ypres, that some of the fiercest fighting of the First World War occurred. Working from a dressing station on the
    banks of the Yser Canal, dressing hundreds of wounded soldiers from wave after wave of relentless enemy attack, he observed how
    “we are weary in body and wearier in mind. The general impression in my mind is of a nightmare.”

    In May, 1915, on the day following the death of fellow soldier Lt Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, John McCrae wrote his now famous work,
    an expression of his anguish over the loss of his friend and a reflection of his surroundings – wild Poppies growing amid simple
    wooden crosses marking makeshift graves. These 15 lines, written in 20 minutes, captured an exact description of the sights and
    sounds of the area around him.

    Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae left Ypres with these memorable few lines scrawled on a scrap of paper. His words were a poem
    which started, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow…” Little did he know then that these 15 lines would become enshrined in the
    innermost thoughts and hearts of all soldiers who hear them. Through his words, the scarlet Poppy quickly became the
    symbol for soldiers who died in battle.

    The poem was first published on 8 December 1915 in England, appearing in “Punch” magazine.


    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.

    His poem speaks of Flanders fields, but the subject is universal – the fear of the dead that they will be forgotten, that their
    death will have been in vain. Remembrance, as symbolized by the Poppy, is our eternal answer which belies that fear.

    Sadly, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae died of pneumonia at Wimereux, France on 28 January 1918. He was 45 years old.

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    The Flower of Remembrance

    An American teacher, Moina Michael, while working at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ headquarters in New York City
    in November 1918, read John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields”. She immediately made “a personal pledge to keep the
    faith and vowed always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and as an emblem for keeping the
    faith with all who died".

    Two years later, during a 1920 visit to the United States, a French woman, Madame Guerin, learned of the custom. On her
    return to France, she decided to use handmade Poppies to raise money for the destitute children in war-torn areas of the country.
    Following the example of Madame Guerin, the Great War Veterans’ Association in Canada (the predecessor of The Royal Canadian Legion)
    officially adopted the Poppy as its Flower of Remembrance on 5 July 1921.

    Thanks to the millions of Canadians who wear the Legion’s lapel Poppy each November, the little red plant has never died.
    And neither have Canadian’s memories for 117,000 of their countrymen who died in battle.

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    A Symbol of Unity

    At 0530 hours on the morning of 9 April 1917, the Battle of Vimy Ridge began, marking an important milestone in our military history.
    For the next few days, Canadian troops fought relentlessly, braving enemy forces, a heavily-fortified ridge and the weather.
    This battle was significant; not only was it a resounding success for Canada but, in the words of Brigadier-General A.E. Ross,
    it marked the“birth of a nation”. No longer would Canada be overshadowed by the military strength of her allies. This battle had proven
    Canada’s ability as a formidable force in the theatre of war.

    The bravery, discipline and sacrifice that Canadian troops displayed during those few days are now legendary. The battle represented
    a memorable unification of our personnel resources as troops from all Canadian military divisions, from all parts of Canada and from
    all walks of life, joined to collectively overcome the powerful enemy at considerable odds. Our troops united to defeat adversity
    and a military threat to the world.

    Now, decades later, Canadians stand united in their Remembrance as they recognize and honour the selfless acts of our troops from
    all wars. We realize that it is because of our war veterans that we exist as a proud and free nation.

    Today, when people from all parts of Canada and from all walks of life join together in their pledge to never forget, they choose to display
    this collective reminiscence by wearing a Poppy. They stand united as Canadians sharing a common history of sacrifice and commitment.

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    The Lapel Poppy

    The lapel Poppies that are worn in Canada today were first made, beginning in 1922, by disabled veterans under the sponsorship
    of the Department of Soldiers Civil Re-establishment. Until 1996, Poppy material was made at the “Vetcraft” sheltered workshops run by
    Veterans Affairs Canada in Montreal and Toronto. The work provided a small source of income for disabled ex-service persons and their
    dependants, allowing them to take an active part in maintaining the tradition of Remembrance.

    When it no longer became practical for Veterans Affairs Canada to maintain the “Vetcraft” operations, the Legion volunteered to take on the
    continuing responsibility for the production of Poppies. In so doing, Dominion Command has awarded a production contract to a private
    company to produce the Poppies but all operations are conducted under strict Legion control and oversight.

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