Questions for students
- Why do you think McCrae’s poem became popular?
- What does he ask of his readers?
- Do you agree with his request?
Less than two months after the war began, Laurence Binyon wrote one of the most well-known and often recited poems of remembrance, “For the Fallen,” that the lives sacrificed in war would be preserved in the memory of the living.
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.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a noted Canadian physician before the war, served with Canada’s First Brigade Artillery as a surgeon at a field hospital in Belgium. As he worked within sight of poppies blooming across old battlefields and fresh graves, he crafted a poignant testament against war and wasted lives that arguably became the Great War’s most famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.” McCrae himself died from disease in 1918, the war’s last year.
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.
American Moina Michael is credited for giving rise to the use of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. Working as a YMCA Overseas War secretary in New York, she read that John McCrae had died and vowed to always wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields in remembrance.
She made the first sales of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy in November 1918. From that point forward, it was her mission to make the poppy the national memorial symbol and inspire the world to return to peace after the “war to end all wars.”
Known as the “Poppy Campaign,” veterans groups around the world have adopted the sale of the poppy to raise funds and recognition for Veterans and their family. In 1920, the American Legion adopted the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy as the U.S. national emblem of Remembrance.
In 1922, the VFW adopted the Buddy Poppy as their official memorial flower and have distributed them across the United States since 1923. Then, as today, the VFW Buddy Poppy is assembled by disabled and needy veterans.
It was not until 1919 that several allied nations chose the poppy to serve as a symbol of the war.