The Story of the Poppy

Our story begins and ends with a flower.

This beautiful flower is known as a King Protea. It is one of the oldest flowering plants on the planet: the species dating back approximately 300 million years.

Do you know what country the King Protea is a national flower of?

It is the national flower of South Africa and that is where our story begins.

In South Africa, British and Dutch troops fought in the Boer War.

This was the first war where Canadian soldiers traveled across the ocean to fight in another country.

This is where we meet John McCrae. He was born in Guelph, Ontario in 1872.

From a young age John had an enthusiasm for the military. The McCrae family had a long history of being brave and noble soldiers.

John loved learning. He was also very artistic and he liked to draw and write poetry. When he grew up, John studied hard to become a doctor.

John loved adventure, so when the South African war broke out, John wanted to go. He felt a strong call of duty to serve his country.

In 1899, he sailed to South Africa to fight. When he returned home a year later, he studied to become a doctor.

Many years went by and John became an excellent teacher and accomplished surgeon. His enthusiasm and sense of caring for his patients and students earned him a high degree of respect.

He was a man of high principles and strong spiritual values. He was described as warm and sensitive, with extraordinary compassion for both people and animals.

On August 4, 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany, 45,000 Canadians soon joined the fight.

John McCrae was one of them, appointed a medical officer with the First Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery.

He took with him his horse, Bonfire.

John also had a dog named Bonneau. Bonneau would come with John on his hospital rounds when John was checking on his patients.

Interesting facts:

Men and women were not the only ones to serve in the war. Millions of animals such as horses, mules, dogs, pigeons and even glow worms helped out during these times. They moved troops and supplies, detected poisonous gas, caught rats, carried messages and offered companionship to soldiers.

But what the heck did glow worms do?

They were caught and placed in glass jars to give dim light so that men in the trenches could read letters, maps and reports in the dark.

On the morning before he wrote his famous poem, one of John’s closest friends, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed. His death deeply saddened McCrea and inspired him to write the poem “In Flanders Fields."

Poem in John McCrae handwriting

John McCrae died on a cold January day in 1918. His friends and colleagues watched with deep sadness as Bonfire lead the burial procession.

Through the sadness and grief, a brave woman named Madame Anna Guerin was inspired by John McCrea's poem, In Flanders Fields, and had an idea.

Her idea come to be known as Poppy Day. On a special day, Remembrance Day, people could wear a cloth poppy as a symbol to honour and remember all the men and women who died in the war.

She asked associations to adopt and distribute the poppies on Remembrance Day as a way to raise money for widows and orphans of war torn France.

Anna campaigned tirelessly for her Poppy Day idea.

On July 4th, 1921, Madame Guerin met with the Great War Veterans Association in Port Arthur.

The Great War Veterans Association, now known as the Canadian Veterans Association, agreed to adopt the wearing of the poppy emblem.

The poppy campaign became a huge success as millions of people pinned the bright red flower over their hearts to show their solidarity with the men and women who had made such great sacrifices.

The Poppy Trademark

Since June 30, 1948, the Royal Canadian Legion has been entrusted by the people of Canada to uphold and maintain the Poppy as a symbol that reminds us to never forget the sacrifices Veterans made to protect our freedom.

Today, the Royal Canadian Legion continues its Poppy Campaign from the last Friday in October until November 11th, Remembrance Day. It is one of the Royal Canadian Legion’s most important programs. The money raised provides financial assistance to veterans and their families, as well as funding for medical equipment, medical research, home services, long term care facilities and much more.

So our story starts and ends with a flower.

This remarkably delicate flower is a symbol of hope and a reminder to never forget those who gave their lives for our freedoms.

Let's take a moment to reflect on the freedoms and peace in our lives, and to remember the men and women who served and sacrificed for all we have today.

Works Cited

Marshall, T. “Canada and the South African War (Boer War).” The Canadian Encyclopedia. December 21, 2020, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/south-african-war.

Binyon, L. “For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon.” Poetry Foundation, 2021, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57322/for-the-fallen.

Claassens, C. “10 Fascinating Facts to Know about THE PROTEA, South Africa's National Flower.” Culture Trip, September 27, 2017, www.theculturetrip.com/africa/south-africa/articles/10-fascinating-facts-to-know-about-the-protea-south-africas-national-flower/.

Dietrich, B. "Colonel John McCrae: From Guelph, Ontario to Flanders Fields." Canadian Military History. 1996. URL XYZ

Granfield, L. “John McCrae.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, March 15, 2016, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/lt-col-john-mccrae.

The Royal Canadian Legion. "History of the Poppy", 2021, www.legion.ca/remembrance/the-poppy/history-of-the-poppy.

The Royal Canadian Legion. “How We Operate.”, 2021, www.legion.ca/who-we-are/how-we-operate.

Veterans Affairs Canada. “John McCrae.”, January 22, 2020, www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/people-and-stories/john-mccrae#01.

Taylor, A. “Animals, the Forgotten Warriors: University of TORONTO Magazine.” University of Toronto Magazine, September 23, 2014, magazine.utoronto.ca/campus/history/changed-by-war-forgotten-warriors-alice-taylor/.

Woodbury, R. “John McCrae Was Much More than a Single Famous Poem.” CBC News, CBC/Radio Canada, 2018, www.newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/the-life-of-

Images used