I don’t remember if the school handed us a poppy to wear sometime in early November, or whether we paid a modest amount to wear that beloved badge.
Our fathers went to work, our mothers shopped and played bridge, the postman dropped by — all sporting a poppy on a lapel. Canadians and Brits still wear them — the newsreaders on the BBC news haven’t retired theirs as of last night, a few days after November 11. In fact, the British delegation took some heat at the G20 earlier this week for their poppies — some other countries didn’t appreciate that splash of red. I’m happy to report that David Cameron told them, diplomatically, to shove it. Fashion note: The UK version now includes a dashing splash of faux foliage.
The Poppy is certainly cheap for such a crimson splash, but its provenance isn’t cheerful. It was the chosen official emblem of mourning for, and remembrance of, the millions of British Empire dead in the First World War. (As WWI didn’t turn out to be The War to End All Wars, we’ve many more dead to remember.) It features in the first line of the Canadian Army surgeon John McCrea’s immortal war poem “In Flanders Fields,” and was considered the natural choice for the pin of painful memories.
Only once have I discussed the First World War with someone who’d fought in it — our family friend, Doug Read. He kept it light and short, recalling being so tired, young and hungry that he slept through the carnage at Ypres (or was it Vimy Ridge?) My English grandfather served in the Royal Navy, but he died before I could ask him for war stories.
In the time I’ve lived in the USA I’ve discovered that the Poppy isn’t ubiquitous — in fact I’ve been able to buy one only twice since I moved here, from eldery vets at a stoplight. They were sad plasticky versions of the flowers I remembered, but I was happy to buy them and proud to wear them them. Each year, I was literally the only employee to own one.
I need to find a way to bring back the Poppy. Hmmmm — how about I make some next year and sell them, proceeds going to the VFW? I may be a genius.