Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Poppy Lady

I always thought the Poppy Appeal was started by the British Legion.  I was wrong.

On Saturday 9th November 1918, two days before the Armistice was declared, Moina Belle Michael was in New York browsing through a magazine when she came across this poem by Lieutenant Colonel John Mc Crae, a Canadian doctor:

In Flanders Fields

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.

Later she was describe reading it as a spiritual experience.  She made a personal pledge to always wear a poppy to keep faith with the men who died.  She scribbled a quick response to Mc Crae's poem:

                            Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
                            Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
                            We caught the torch you threw
                            And holding high, we keep the Faith
                            With All who died.

She scoured the shops and purchased 25 red silk poppies.  Wearing one herself she distributed the others amongst delegates attending a conference at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries' headquarters in New York where she worked. She realised the importance of getting the symbol adopted nationally and spent the next two years campaigning.  In September 1920 the National American Legion (an organisation set up by veterans to help man who served in the First World War) convened in Cleveland. The Convention agreed to use the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy as the United States' national emblem of Remembrance.

A French woman, Anna Guérin, was present at the Convention and inspired by Moina Belle Michael's idea she returned to Europe and set about making artificial poppies to sell.  The profits would be used to help orphaned French children and to rebuild the devastated areas of the country.

By 11th November 1921 the first British Legion Poppy Day Appeal was launched.


  1. I didnt know this. Lovely post Pat.

  2. Hi Janet,

    Thank you. I always presumed it was a British idea!