The association between the poppy and war dead goes back to the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s when soldiers noticed that poppies seemed to thrive on the graves of soldiers who had died in battle in Flanders, a region of northern France and Belgium.
The poem, one that almost every Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand child can recite from memory, reflects what McCrae saw and heard while working to save dying and injured soldiers during a deadly battle.
On April 22, 1915, the Germans used deadly chlorine gas against Allied troops in a desperate attempt to create movement on one side or the other. Although they were suffering from the terrible effects of gas, the Canadian soldiers continued to fight and hold the line for another 16 days.
In the trenches where he was caring for hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers, McCrae was so deeply affected that wrote a letter to his mother.
The letter to his mother
"The general impression in my mind is a nightmare. We have been in the most bitter of fights. For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots, except occasionally.
"In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds...And behind if all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way," he wrote.
Wild poppies were already beginning to bloom between the crosses marking the many graves. Although he couldn't help his friend, or any of the others who had died, McCrae spoke for them in this poem. It was the second last poem he was to write.
The following year, Anna Guerin, a Frenchwoman, sold millions of poppies to raise funds for rehabilitation in areas of France. She also sent women to London to sell poppies and persuaded Earl Haig to adopt it as a memorial symbol for the British Legion.
In 1921 the Canadian Legion joined its British counterpart and officially adapted the poppy as its symbol of Remembrance.
First, wearing a poppy is one very visible way to show respect and admiration for the men and women who sacrificed their lives in order to help us retain the freedom and rights we take for granted.
Also when you buy and wear a poppy, you will be helping military families, and veterans in need and their families.
Where does the money go in Britain?
Last year the poppy campaign in Britain raised more than £40 m ( that's about about $70 million Canadian). The Royal British Legion said it spends £1.7m a week on care and support for military families, including grants, employment advice and funding, emotional support, tribunal and inquest advice, care homes and family breaks. This includes the families of veterans returning from Afghanistan. or any other area of conflict.
Where does the money go in Canada?
The legion distributes about 18 million poppies a year via its members, veterans, military cadets and through direct mailings. Assuming all are given out to Canadians, it amounts to average donations of less than a dollar per available poppy.
The basic purpose of Poppy Funds is to provide immediate assistance to ex-servicemen and women in need. This may include food, shelter or medical attention for them or their families. Also, education bursaries are granted to children and grandchildren of ex-service personnel.
Poppy funds can be used for low-rental housing and care facilities, community medical appliances and medical research, drop-in centres, meals-on-wheels, transportation and related services for veterans their dependents. Facilities and services are often extended to the elderly or disabled in the community as may be available.
PDF Reading Comprehension Quiz: The Poppy
PDF Answer Key Reading Comprehension: The Poppy
Online Reading Comprehension Quiz: The Poppy
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1. Do YOU think it is still important to wear a poppy? Why or why not?
2. What else should people do instead? Explain