Papaver rhoeas

The red Flanders poppy (papaver rhoeas) is still a major symbol of fallen World War I soldiers.  In has been drawn by artists, photographed, embroidered, knitted, crocheted and endlessly reproduced in paper and silk – sometimes even real flowers.  It has survived poet John McCrae (1872-1918), all the fallen and even those diggers who did return and lived to a great age.

At the Centenary of Anzac Day, the red poppies were much more prevalent than rosemary, a symbol of remembrance mentioned by Shakespeare.  This is because a rosemary tea stimulates the brain, a handy hint for students.

Is this because the corn poppy, its other name, grows as a weed?  Is it because it was the first to grow back in the disturbed ground of Great War trenches, shell craters and graves?  Is it because the brilliant red colour is well associated with the blood of soldiers?

We will look at the post-Armistice history of the Flower of Remembrance – and two ladies who kept the memory alive.



Moina Michael (1869-1944) from Good Hope, Georgia, was a highly educated, accomplished woman.  She was a teacher, who became a professor at the University of Georgia by 1914. World War I brought  out her humanitarian side, and she worked for the YWCA.  At their New York offices on 9 November 1918, two days before the Armistice, she was flicking through the Ladies Home Journal, when she found John McCrae’s poem.

The words touched her heart, and she vowed that she WOULD keep the faith.  Moina went to Wanamaker’s department store and bought some red silk poppies.  She sold these, then kept one for her lapel, she had vowed to always wear one.

“Moina Michael was determined to put all her energy towards getting the Poppy emblem adopted in the United States as a national memorial symbol.” {Great War}  She would be instrumental in this, writing to her Congressman in December 1918, then the War Department.

In 1919, the American Legion was established, for returned servicemen.  In August 1920, Moina, who had returned to the University of Georgia, put the idea to their convention in Atlanta.  They agreed to accept the poppy as a simple, but not the accompanying Torch of Liberty.  On 29 September 1920, the National American Legion at their convention in Cleveland adopted the Flanders poppy as their national symbol.

The Poppy Lady had won.  Moina later wrote her autobiography The Miracle Flower: The Story of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy.  She had also scribbled a poem on the back of a YWCA envelope called We Shall Keep the Faith, in reply to McCrae’s verse.

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,

Sleep sweet – to rise anew!

We caught the torch you threw

And holding high, we keep the Faith

With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led;

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies,

But lends a lustre to the red

Of the flower that blooms above the dead

In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red

We wear in honor of our dead.

Fear not that ye have died for naught;

We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought

In Flanders Fields.

The poppies will be in flower on Veterans Day this year, as the 11 November is known in the United States.


Another poppy lady was Anna Guerin, who worked for the French YMCA.  After reading McCrae’s poem, she too was deeply moved.  From the country that, along with Flanders, had been devastated most by the Western Front conflict, Madame Guerin dreamed of an industry making artificial poppies.  This would raise francs for the most devastated, especially orphans.  She organised the American and French Children’s League to do this.

In 1921, Mme Guerin and her supporters went international.

The poppy emblem was adopted in Canada on 5 July 1921.  In the poet John McCrae’s homeland, disabled veterans worked to produce the flowers, which is now managed by Veterans’ Affair Canada.

In New Zealand, the poppy was adopted in 1922 by the New Zealand Returned Soldiers Association.  They were introduced on Anzac Day that year.

In Britain, Frenchwomen were the first to sell silk poppies.  In 1921 Mme Guerin met with the controversial Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who was head of The British Legion.  He agreed to adopt the poppy emblem for Armistice Day that year.

Today, there are poppy factories at Richmond and Edinburgh.  In 2014, the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was set-up at The Tower of London, by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper.  In the moat, there were 888,246 ceramic poppies, for every soldier killed in the Great War, resembling a river of blood.

Poppies and the Shard


In Australia, the red Flanders poppy also arrived in 1921.  In November that year, they were supplied by the American and French Childrens League and sold for one shilling by the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League, the forerunner of the RSL.

Today they are offered as wreaths on Anzac Day, with usually a solitary bloom for Remembrance Day.  The poppies have competition from rosemary, which grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and the tin-hat, symbol of Legacy.  However, they were a prominent symbol on 25 April 2015, for the centenary of the Anzac Day landings.  They will be again this Remembrance Day.

Poppies on the Roll of Honour. Photograph taken by Kerry Alchin. PAIU2014/128.14

Australian War Memorial

The blood-red poppies still grow in the fields of Flanders, around the graves of the World War I dead.  They also bloom in the hearts of us all, as we remember them.  Lest we forget.


‘Red poppies’.  Australian War Memorial. Retrieved from:

‘Rosemary’. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved from:

‘The Poppy is for Sacrifice’. ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee (Qld) Incorporated, 1998. Retrieved from:

‘The Story Behind the Remembrance Poppy’ The Great War 1914-1918. Retrieved from:

“In pictures: The poppies at the Tower of London”.  BBC. 7 November 2014. Retrieved from:

“The Tower of London Remembers: About the Installation”.  Historic Royal Palaces, 2015.  Retrieved from:

”The Red Poppy”.  The Australian Army.  27 August 2014.  Retrieved from:

Burke, Don. ‘Flanders Poppies’.  Burke’s Backyard. CTC Productions. 2007-14. Retrieved from:

Clarke, Dr Stephen. ‘HISTORY OF THE POPPY’. The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association. Retrieved from:

Grieve, Maude. ‘The Memorial Day Poppy’. A Modern Herbal.  1995-2015. Retrieved from:

McNab, Chris. ‘The history of the Remembrance Poppy’. The Independent. 11 November 2014. Retrieved from:

Michael, Moina. “We Shall Keep the Faith”. The Great War. November 1918.  Retrieved from:

“Remembrance Day – Poppy Day”. Northern News. WordPress 2015 Retrieved from:


One thought on “Papaver rhoeas

  1. Fantastic post Linda. Well researched and extremely well written. If you put tags on it you will get a lot of people reading it. Try tags of remembrance, poppies, WWI, war for starters.
    Bless ya.

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