Poppies were one of the first flowers to grow on the battlefields of France and Belgium during and after the First World War.
Scarlet corn poppies (popaver rhoeas), according to the BBC, “…grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth throughout Western Europe.”. Battlefields from the Napoleonic wars and other conflicts bloomed into fields of poppies once the battles were done.
In late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were once again ripped open as World War One raged through Europe’s heart. Once the conflict was over the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the otherwise barren battlefields.
In Flanders Fields
Canadian poet and soldier John McRae wrote the poem In Flanders Fields in 1915 after presiding over the funeral of a friend. The poem was later adopted by the newly formed Royal British Legion in 1921 as a symbol for their campaign to raise funds to support war veterans.
The poem begins…
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
In 1922 the Legion set up a factory that employed veterans to produce silk poppies. The factory remains active to this day, now making paper poppies instead of silk. The poppies are worn by citizens to recognize the sacrifice of soldiers in times of war.
Poppies are worn in Britain, Canada, throughout the Commonwealth, and to a lesser extent in the United States and elsewhere.
What made the conditions in Flanders and elsewhere well-suited for poppy blooms?
Artillery bombardments disturbed the soil and brought the seeds close to the surface. The nitrogen from explosives and the lime from shattered rubble combined to produce the optimal conditions for the poppy to grow.
Do your part?
Join the Poppy Campaign
Support Canadian veterans through the Poppy Campaign.