Around the world, the poppy has become the symbol of WWI. In 1915, after one of the early and horrible battles on the Somme, a Canadian doctor named John McCrae noticed red poppies growing near one of Flanders’ Fields’ mass cemeteries. He wrote a poem, “In Flanders Fields,” which went on to become the war’s most popular and most recognized poem in the U.S. and Great Britain, evocative of a war that racked up nearly 38 million casualties, including upwards of 8.5 million deaths. Its opening lines refer to the many poppies that were the first flowers to grow in the churned-up earth of soldiers' graves in Flanders, a region of Belgium. It is written from the point of view of the dead soldiers.
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.
In England, at the Tower of London, there is currently a display of 888,246 ceramic poppies bleeding from the Tower wall---one poppy for each British or Commonwealth person who died during WWI. The stunning installation covers 16 acres. So many people have come to see it that they are considering making it permanent.
In France, the poppies still grow naturally in the old battlefields and cemetaries, but they are also on every commemorative plaque, in every gift shop, and in the lapels of men walking the streets during this national commemoration. So that's what I'll be wearing on November 11.