Poppy Day, November 11 (Every Year), British Remembrance Day: A Beautiful Tradition

Anura Guruge, laughing, picture November 16, 2011.

by Anura Guruge

Poppy Day,
also known as Remembrance Day
& Armistice Day,
is Veteran’s Day in the
British Commonwealth.

It is always observed on November 11, without exception since that was Armistice Day — the day, in 1918, the armistice [i.e., truce] was signed the Allies [i.e., US the good guys] and Germany, at Compiègne, France, to bring to an end World War I [1914 to 1918], which involved over 70 million troops and had killed more than 9 million combatants.

The armistice was signed, symbolically, on the ‘eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month‘, 11 a.m., on 11/11, 1918 in a railway carriage in the woods of Compiègne, in northern France. [Yes, I have visited Compiègne and seen the railway carriage].

The poppies symbolize those that grew in profusion across some of the worst battlefields. [Think of French Claude Monet’s ‘Poppies Blooming’ painted in 1873.] A Canadian physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who was serving in WW I,wrote a poem, in 1915, called ‘In Flanders Fields‘, after attending the funeral of a fellow soldier [‘Flanders‘ being a region in northern Europe in which there was heavy fighting]. The first verse of it went:

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.

An autographed copy of the poem that gives us this lovely tradition.

Herein comes the beautiful, evocative, touching tradition of wearing a poppy, on your lapel or hat, in the weeks leading up to November 11.

It is a wonderful tradition. A visual gesture.

Why we don’t do it in the U.S. is a mystery to me. Though I think about it every November I have, until this, never really given it much thought. I am going to look into it. I am going to see if I can introduce to this country. People will love it. Kids would embrace it. In my other life, as a papal historian, I often have to look at British newspapers online. Over the last two weeks they have included a poppy in their banner, example 1 & example 2. It was those images in the newspaper banners that really hit home. They have poppies in Canada for Poppy Day.

Click to explore.

November 11, 2012
President Obama without one and British Prime Minister with a poppy.
Also the Queen and her husband.
Click for this November 11, 2012 post.

5 thoughts on “Poppy Day, November 11 (Every Year), British Remembrance Day: A Beautiful Tradition


    Search the poppy-in-USA story by following the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VWF) involvement. In the States, it became a bit a cat fight about who’d
    get the credit and the money. A middled aged woman had viewed an ad
    in a woman’s magazine illustrated by Phillp Lyford and developed a logo
    which fell flat. Mme. Anna Guerin’s French war orphanage fundraiser
    was active in parts of the US and very much so in Canada and she offered
    its Great War Veterans (GWV est 1917) replica of the poppy she saw
    children in her country using to decorate the graves of the Fallen, imagery
    reflecting the Canadian battlefield poem printed first in PUNCH in England
    Dec 8 1915, from which it went “viral”, even in the neutral US poetic replies
    good and bad. ‘Keep the faith’ meaning in ’15 – send reinforcements, don’t make our deathsmeaningless.
    Successful in seeing the poppy adopted by Canadian women, children,
    schools, churches and supported by the vets for wear on Nov 11 1921.-
    the French charity worker approached Britain, especially General Haig-
    and the tradition started there, and then other Dominions followed, using
    her ‘artifact’, proceeds being shared for their domestic returned soldiers
    relief and local veterans taking up production. Armistice now Remembrance
    Day and the lapel poppy continuing with different design to this day.
    Meanwhile the US had moved to it own domestic ‘day of the dead’, spring
    Memorial Day which predated the Great War and the Canadian poet’s
    Complicated story, but success seems to have come in Canada because
    interest came from the bottom up and served both victims of war and those
    who Fell for their countries, whereas in the US there was an attempt to
    impose it on all the States focused only on US needs. The UK simply
    followed the lead of the people and vets in Canada, even encourageing
    splinter groups to get together and join the Legion movement.
    Glad to read of your interest – the photo of Obama asking Harper what
    that red thing is, bemuses. Note the different “Empire Dominions” designs
    as they evolved from the silk replicas imported from France.


        THANK YOU for rounding up so much. It is hard to cut through the
        error and general nonsense online. A real offender is the umbrella
        group in England, which quote much irrelevancy from a 1941 book, including a faulty image of the Bauer & Black co.’s error-laden
        patriotic marketing ad in Ladies’ Home Journal issue for your Thanksgiving of November 1918. At that time it was assumed that
        the war would drag into 1919, and the purpose of the ad was to
        tell Americans to tighten their belts without complaint, considering
        the sacrifice of men overseas. The saga needs fresh eyes like yours
        I don’t mark Memorial Day though. I’m a Canadian, and November
        11th is our national day of mourning for our Fallen, our war dead,
        our kin.
        -If you can tell me how to submit an image to you, a significant item
        in the chronology of the poet’s poppy imagery translating into use
        for Remembrance has turned up in northern Ontario, not yet online.
        It’s a plaque commemorating the agreement between our Vet group
        of the day and our French friend to take wearing the icon national.


    Re the poem that started all this, see Sir Andrew Macphail’s 1919 book
    on John McCrae. It quotes Major McCrae on the event that inspired it,
    and the diary of the one buried, hoping to get a good sleep. Google
    Virtual War Memorial Canada, search McCrae J 1918 and Helmer, AH
    1915, and see postings of these.


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