Each November, we wear our poppies to commemorate and reflect on the wars that scarred our history, and the bravery of the people who fought in them. But do you know how the poppy came to be such an iconic symbol of Remembrance?
The story of the Remembrance poppy
Moina Michael, born in 1869, was a professor at the University of Georgia, and a passionate humanitarian. In 1918 she read the poem In Flanders Fields by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian doctor and soldier. She was inspired to write her own poem in response, We Shall Keep the Faith.
The opening lines of McCrae’s poem – ‘In Flanders Fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row’ – refer to the poppies that grew on the graves of fallen soldiers on the battlefields. In tribute to these lines, Michael vowed always to wear a poppy in remembrance of those who served in the war.
After the war, Michael taught a class of disabled servicemen. She realised the need for financial support for disabled veterans, and began selling red silk poppies as a way to raise funds to help them.
In 1920, thanks to her efforts, the National American Legion convention adopted the red poppy as its symbol of Remembrance. In 1921, the newly formed British Legion ordered 9 million of Michael’s silk poppies and sold them on November 11th. The first ever Poppy Appeal raised over £106,000 – a significant amount of money at the time – which was used to help World War I veterans with housing and employment.
The Poppy Lady
Michael became known as the ‘Poppy Lady’ in recognition of her humanitarian efforts. She received a number of awards during her lifetime, including the distinction of ‘Distinguished Citizen of Georgia’, given to her by the State of Georgia. She retired from the University of Georgia in 1934, and her autobiography, The Miracle Flower: The Story of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy’ was published in 1941.
Michael died in 1944. That year, a World War II Liberty Ship constructed in Georgia was named in her honour – the SS Moina Michael. In 1948, the US Postal Service honoured her life’s achievement with a commemorative three-cent stamp. In 1969, the Georgia General Assembly dedicated part of US Highway 78 to her, naming it the Moina Michael Highway. In 1999 she was honoured by the organisation Georgia Women of Achievement, entering their Hall of Fame.
Wear a Remembrance poppy this November
The poppy is a way to recognise and remember the sacrifices made by the Armed Forces during the World Wars, and in all conflicts since 1945.
Wearing a poppy and donating to the Poppy Appeal helps support those currently serving in the Armed forces, veterans, and their families and dependants.
You can read more about the Poppy Appeal and make a donation on the Royal British Legion’s website.