The word “poppy” in Germany is associated with the delicious poppy seed filling (“Mohn”) commonly used in cakes and pastries. Elsewhere, poppies are unfortunately associated with the production and consumption of hard drugs.
It’s easy to forget another representation associated with the flower: a commemoration symbol for the war dead.
Wild poppies grow in Belgium, and in particular, in the Ypres salient, one of many places where bodies, blood, and mud were the norm in close-contact trench warfare in World War One. Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was serving in the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, and after burying his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer who died of injuries sustained during the Second Battle of Ypres, McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” as he took the scene before him. Moved by McCrae’s poem, American Moira Michael began in 1918 the practice of wearing poppies on Remembrance Day.
It’s why you may see people sporting poppies on their lapels in the days leading up to November 11; the tradition is encouraged and upheld mostly in Commonwealth countries. In Australia and New Zealand, the big day of commemoration is ANZAC Day on April 25.
At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, over one hundred thousand names are inscribed on the walls at the Roll of Honour; these are the names of people killed in action since 1885. A paper poppy is placed next to each name for relatives or direct descendants.
I made the two photos above at the War Memorial’s Roll of Honour on 6 September 2012; this post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.