Today is Remembrance Day, when we look back and contemplate the sacrifices made by the many members of the armed forces who gave their lives in service of the Commonwealth of Nations during the First World War.
For years now, we have worn poppies in the run up to Remembrance Day as a sign of respect, but when, how and why did they become such a potent symbol? We here at Lifeline24 decided to take a look.
The poppies we pin to our tops and tuck into our lapels actually represent a particular species: the scarlet corn poppy, which grows in Western Europe. The interesting thing about this species is that it tends to grow in overturned, loosened earth.
The Napoleonic Wars of 1803-1815 caused chaos across Western Europe, and, as the battlefields fell silent, thousands of scarlet corn poppies grew around the dead, the cannon and foot-loosened earth providing the perfect conditions.
The same thing famously happened to the battlegrounds of Flanders Fields a century later after the conflicts there had subsided.
The scarlet corn poppy therefore became closely associated with the eery, tragic calm of a once-battlefield, but also as a tentative symbol of hope, new life blooming where there had once been so much death.
John McCrae’s famous poem In Flanders Fields cemented the flower as a symbol of sacrifice, and in 1921, the symbol was co-opted by the Royal British Legion, cementing its place in the yearly commemoration of all those lives tragically lost.
There is also, of course, the white poppy worn by some as a symbol not just of remembrance but of peace and an end to all wars. Some people believe that this undermines the significance and meaning of their red counterparts, while for others the white poppy is a way to pay their respects without implicitly condoning some of the actions taken during the war.
Either way, the poppy is a powerful symbol, one that has ensured its place in history over 85 years of commemoration.