IN REMEMBRANCE OF ALL WHO DIED
THE red poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is mentioned in history from the earliest times. The flower was found in Egyptian pyramids dating back 3 000 years. It featured in Homer’s Iliad and plays a central role in Greek mythology. It has become the symbol of remembrance for fallen comrades. This is explained by the simple phenomenon that the poppy’s seed can lie dormant for extremely long periods and, once exposed to sunlight, the seeds sprout and grow in abundance.
Therefore, vast carpets of poppies have naturally and poignantly bloomed on the churned and bloodied earth of battlefields through the ages. Genghis Khan’s battlefields were covered with the white Asian poppy and battlefields during the Napoleonic War were covered in red poppies. Fields of poppies appeared in Flanders and elsewhere during World War 1 and inspired many anthems, songs and poems, including Lieutenant-Cololonel John McCrae’s now famous poem, In Flanders Fields.
After the Great War, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide were unemployed, incapacitated and bereft as a result. In the UK in 1921, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium and France, formed the (Royal) British Legion to assist the men and women who served with him in battle. A group of French veterans’ widows suggested to him that the Legion sell French-made silk poppies to raise funds to support the British veterans. He ordered 9 million of them and sold them on November 11, 1921.
And so the tradition of wearing a red poppy in remembrance gained momentum. It is now common practise in many countries, including South Africa.
The South African Legion distributes poppies in aid of military veterans and their families every year in November.
Recently, a purple poppy has been introduced, representing all animals that served and were sacrificed in war.