Our symbol of Remembrance

Wearing a poppy in advance of Remembrance Day has become an important part of Canadian culture. We’ve been doing it for so long that we might have forgotten some of the five Ws about the poppy.

Who: Anyone can wear a poppy to commemorate the servicemen and women killed in conflict.  Remembrance poppies are mostly used in Australia, Canada, New Zealand,  the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent in the United States.

Where: The poppy distributed by the Royal Canadian Legion should be worn on the left side over the heart. The Legion website states: “However, wearing a Poppy is a personal expression of Remembrance, and how someone chooses to wear a Poppy is always an individual choice.”

When: Poppies may be worn from the last Friday in October until Nov. 11. Again, quoting the website:

“The Legion encourages the wearing of Poppies at funerals of Veterans, and for any commemorative event … As well, it is not inappropriate to wear a Poppy during other times to commemorate Fallen Veterans and it is an individual choice to do so.”

 A poppy can be stored carefully for further use or disposed of respectfully. The Legion says: “We encourage anyone who finds a Poppy that has fallen to the ground to pick it up and brush it off so that it can be kept or disposed of respectfully.”

How: Poppies are distributed free by the Legion but a donation is gratefully accepted. The Poppy Fund directly supports Canada’s veterans and their families. Donations can be made online at legion.ca.

Some people are frustrated when their poppy falls off so easily. I have seen a Canada lapel pin used to secure the poppy to a coat or blazer. However, nothing must obscure the centre of the poppy.

Likewise, the Legion seeks to protect the trademark of the poppy.

“The Royal Canadian Legion has been entrusted by the people of Canada to uphold and maintain the Poppy as a symbol reminding us to never forget the sacrifices Veterans made to protect our freedom.”

During the poppy campaign the Legion now sells black poppy-centre pins that hold the poppy in place. Price is $5.

I have a lovely beaded poppy with a sturdy moose hide backing and a strong safety pin sewn on it. It is a work of art, but is not an official poppy.

Why: According to the Legion, the poppy is a symbol that dates back to the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th Century. Canadians adopted the poppy because it grew thickly over the graves of soldiers in the Flanders area of France.  “Fields that had been barren before battle exploded with the blood-red flowers after the fighting ended. During the tremendous bombardments of the war, the chalk soils became rich in lime from rubble, allowing the “popaver rhoeas” to thrive. When the war ended, the lime was quickly absorbed and the Poppy began to disappear again.”

John McCrae, a Canadian medical officer in the First World War, wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” in May 1915 on the day following the death of a fellow soldier. The poem was published in Punch Magazine in December 1915 and became enshrined in the hearts of generations of Canadians.