On Friday, I picked up my kids for the weekend, and on the way back from the border my daughter started talking about some project involving poppies in school, so I asked her what that was all about. Both my son and daughter then proceeded to tell me it was for Remembrance Day, and that the poppies were significant because they were the first flowers that grew on the battlefields and fresh graves of WWI. I knew about the connection between poppies and WWI, but I wasn’t aware that they were so much a part of the commonwealth tradition for honoring veterans. Here in the US, it is generally on Memorial Day rather than Veterans Day (which coincides with Remembrance Day) that we pay our respect to war dead.
I think it’s a great tradition, and I’m glad the children are learning about it. When it comes to old wars, American kids are typically treated to an ideological browbeating over WWII — in a strange way the fact that we won “the good war” is overshadowed by eternal racial and religious guilt we must feel for being affiliated in some manner or another with Nazis (e.g. you are white and Christian, therefore you are the same as a Nazi, and also a bad guy). Remembrance Day appears not to dwell on that sort of punitive and malicious “you, too, are guilty” aspect of American education, and instead focuses on the purer sentiment of sorrow for fallen soldiers.
So, although it’s a day late, I thought I’d offer a little tribute to the holiday. My great grandfather was involved in WWI, and spent a fair amount of time on the front line as a journalist, where he faced the same dangers as soldiers, including gas, which put him out of commission for a while (he survived and lived to 93, dying in the 1970s).
Here is the poem associated with the tradition:
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.