(This entry originally appeared here on May 20 2004.)

As we approach Memorial Day, veterans all over the country will be accepting donations and distributing poppies in honor of the people we’ve lost in war. This effort seems much more poignant these days.

The significance of the poppy and its relation to veterans goes back to World War I. During the conflict, there were three battles in the region known as Flanders (covering parts of Belgium, France and the Netherlands). Beginning on April 22, 1915 and continuing for 17 days, one of the bloodiest conflicts took place, with over 100,000 casualties on either side. This area was (and is) known for their poppy fields, and the resilience of these flowers to grow there year after year despite the battles and bloodshed.

Later that year, a Canadian army surgeon named John MacRae who served in Flanders wrote a poem called “In Flanders Fields” which was the inspiration behind Remembrance Day in the UK, and the use of the poppy as a device to remember those who served and died in battle. The poem and a good analysis of it can be found here.

Additionally, the final episode of Black Adder Goes Forth, which takes place in the trenches in Flanders (a fine setting for a comedy show :-), ends with the cast ‘going over the top’ in one of these battles. The final scene dissolves from a raging battle scene to a peaceful poppy field.

On the next page, you’ll find the lyrics to the Renaissance song “Remember.” The first time I heard this, I thought it was a nice little ‘nothing’ song about poppies. It wasn’t until a few years later when I learned the significance of everything mentioned in the song.

(Michael Dunford – Betty Thatcher)

I have her letters
Perfume lingers on every page
Tied with ribbons
Kept with lavender and her lace

The letters are faded
Kept by her side for all her days
And the ribbons
Once held her hair on a younger day

He wrote of the warm spring days
And how tall the grass grew
He wrote of the poppy fields
He said, “tell the children I love them–remember”

There was a poppy
Kept in a frame
By his photograph
The years were so long
They were strong and we must be too

He wrote of the open air
And how brave his friends were
He wrote of the poppy fields
He said, “tell the children of Flanders–remember”