The Red Poppy

In 1915, a Canadian medical officer named John McCrae published what is probably the single best-known and popular poem from the First World War, “In Flanders Fields”:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

After reading this poem Moina Michael, a college teacher and YMCA War Worker, was so moved that she was inspired to write a response. Hastily written on the back of an envelope, she penned the lines to We Shall Keep the Faith:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

From that day on, Michael vowed to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance. Others, inspired by the personal memorial, joined in the practice. The Poppy emblem was eventually adopted in the United States as a national memorial symbol, a reminder of those who had not returned home.
The red poppy is also my symbol of Memorial Day, for my heart is a Flanders Field where the memories of our fallen Americans rest. As Michael wrote, the blood of heroes truly never dies. Their sacrifices truly do live on, enriching the fertile soil of my memory, bringing forth red poppies that grow in honor of those who’ve passed on the torch. I hold it high in tribute to them.
Sleep sweet, brave comrades, until you arise anew.

Published by

Joe Carter

Joe Carter founded Evangelical Outpost in 2005. He is the web editor for First Things and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. A fifteen-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously served as the managing editor for the online magazine Culture11 and The East Texas Tribune. Joe has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign and as a director of communications for both the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicaton.

  • Gordon Mullings

    Ah, Joe:
    In Flanders fields there rest the mortal remains of 900,000 Britons and Britsh Commonwealth troops, the finest flower of the age to 1914. A generation later, yet greater sacrifices were called for, as a madman set out on his demoniacal visions of conquest and revenge. And so, every November 11th, at 11 am — the 11th hour or the eleventh day of the 11th month — [or more usually now, the Sunday closest to it] there are memorial parades at the local Cenotaph, with two minutes of silence by way of rememberance. [I particularly remember my 2nd High School, in Barbados, Harrisium Collegium in Insula Barbadoe, which has its own cenotaph, with a tragically long list of names from two World Wars.]
    And, in your own national anthem’s fourth stanza, we may read/sing:

    O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand
    Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation;
    Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
    Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto:

  • Cheesehead

    Joe: Thank you for this post. God bless our troops who have served and are serving our nation. Our words of tribute cannot do justice to the sacrifices made by these brave men and women.
    Gordon: Thank you for your comments.

  • Gordon Mullings

    Hi CH (and others):
    God be with you all.
    By God’s grace, may there be a new birth of the true Spirit of 1776 in the USA — as shown by what the Congress at that time thought it proper to do in the teeth of daunting challenges: call for fasting, repentance and prayer to heaven in the name of Jesus.
    Then, let there be a new birth of true freedom across the ME and the wider world, even as it is nurtured by the blood of patriots anfd hte trears of those who have lost them.
    In the name of Jesus,
    PS interesting to see the response to the DIRECT documentation of the true spirit of 1776 . . .

  • Patrick (gryph)

    PS interesting to see the response to the DIRECT documentation of the true spirit of 1776 . . .

    Any response would be to the quip above, not the words of the founders. And it is not to your credit.
    Memorial Day is a day to remember ALL Americans that have died in service to their country.
    The tombstones at Arlington don’t just bear the symbol of the Cross. They also bear about 30 other symbols, representing different faiths, or none at all.

  • Chris

    For the last few years, Memorial Day has reminded me of another WWI poem. Especially the following:
    These fought in any case,
    And some believing,
    pro domo, in any case

  • Gordon Mullings

    Ah Joe (and others)
    It seems a few remarks are in order, especially to Gryph.
    But first, on Dulce . . .
    1] That “old lie” is not the whole story (and never was)
    –> I am of course very aware of the poem just cited, and of the quite understandable bitterness in it.
    –> I am ALSO very aware of the underlying dynamic of WW I: Imperial Germany’s ruthless, social darwinist inspired grab for power. [A lust that was not knocked out of Germany until it lay in ruins and stains of indelible shame at the end of WWII. Note on this, the attempts of Mr Ahmadinejad to pretend that the mass murder of Jews in WWII did not happen, not to mention the worse pretence that this was entirely a European project of problem if it happened: the sickening story of the Mufti of Jerusalem [more details here] should make sobering reading here.]
    –> Thirdly, judging by what I have read of Tolkein and Lewis [not to mention ever so many ordinary british families that still mourn lost men from those days], few Britons had any illusions on the nature of war by 1916 – 18.
    –> I am very aware of the cruel conundrum that faced the — much maligned [and sometimes unjustly so] — Allied Generals of that war: defence had been mechanised, offense was not. Since Germany had the most technically proficient army and by virtue of the partial success of its 1914 surprise of attacking France through Belgium [whose neutrality she was a joint guarantor of], it sat in control of the critically important territory of northern France. In the battle of the frontiers in August 19154, France lost 300,000 of its finest, and only barely succeeded in stopping the German offensive at the Marne, by sallying out of the Paris fortress and panicking the German high command, within 50 miles of cutting France’s last major lateral railroad.
    –> So Germany had the strategic offensive, tactical defensive that forces assaults at terrible cost to the attackers. [BTW that is exactly what Chesty Puller advocated for Vietnam/Indochina, but the diplomatists never permitted the driving of a wedge across the NVN supply lines, then isolating the communist forces in the S and knocking them out one by one. On far lesser resources Morocco proved that such a strategy still works very well indeed.]
    –> To illustrate the price of that disadvantage: For instance, on the opening day of the Somme, the british suffered 60,000 casualties, 20,000 dead. In the case of the tactical victory that marked the emergence of Canada as a military power, Vimy Ridge, the price was 12,000 casualties for a morning’s attack by several divisions on a relatively narrow front. THAT is why there are 900,000 British and British Commonwealth soldiers lying under the poppies of Flanders fields.
    –> So, they had little option but to fight massive battles of attrition on unfavourable terms to them, the worst being the Somme, and Verdun. [The latter was technically a German offensive, but in fact was a designedly limited attack that put France in the position of having to attack at horrible disadvantage to defend itself once the great fortresses Duaumont and Vaux had been taken. It was intended to bleed France white — and succeeded. It is directly antecedent to the failed 1917 French offensives and the mutinies. France’s spirit was forever broken in 1916. (In earlier threads, I have raise the issue of the shadow of Vietnam for the USA, as a direct parallel. When France most needed to have the fortitude to stand, in 1940, it was wanting. And, Hitler was far worse than the Kaiser had ever been.]
    –> Tanks [a 1916 innovation of Churchill, from the British Admiralty!] were tried as an experiment, but their potential was hardly fully understood or exploited. In the end, victory was only possible after the Germans in turn went over to the massive offensive in 1918, having year by year knocked out eastern powers until in that year they had something like 200 divisions advantage. But, the massive offensive of 1918 — during which BTW, C S Lewis [then a young subaltern] was wounded – failed. A counter offensive, with a significant injection from the American armies, succeeded, as Germany’s strength had been broken in the 1918 offensive.
    –> In the West, there is a tendency to imagine that WWII was materially different. the Russians and Poles [who by 1944 – 45 were some 10% of the Red Army] know better. Germany was bled white on the steppes of Russia, on an even larger scale than WWI [often at casualty exchange rates of 10:1 in her favour] and it is in that context of strategic overstretch that she was broken in 1944, in both the East and the West.
    –> In short, war is a foretaste of hell, and for too many, a gateway to it. Of that I have absolutely no delusions. But — and I speak now as the descendant of slaves — sometimes, the alternative to fighting, even at terrible cost — is slavery under a most cruel taskmaster, or slaughter as his whim.
    –> In the context of these times, the big lie that I see is the pretence that Islamism does not have global conquest ambitions, most recently as it turns out that Iran is acquiring fusion as well as fission technologies and the missiles to deliver it. Go, with an open mind, read the history of Islam, the example set by their Prophet, and the ideology of jihad and dhimmitude — and not the sanitised versions that are put forth as propaganda to deceive those who are only too willing to sleep in blissful ignorance. THEN come back to me and tell me that slavery is the preferable alternative. As a descendant of slaves, I can only pray that God would grant me the courage that I would willingly march into the machine guns and artillery of a Somme to spare my posterity slavery; knowing as I do that many 1,000 man battalions went pout that morning at full strength and came back that night at 100