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How the poppy became symbol of national remembrance

THE first official Legion Poppy Day was held in Britain on 11 November 1921, inspired by the poem In Flanders' Fields written by John McCrae. Since then the Poppy Appeal has been a key annual event in the nation's calendar.

Some of the bloodiest fighting of World War One took place in the Flanders and Picardy regions of Belgium and Northern France. The poppy was the only thing which grew in the aftermath of the complete devastation. McCrae, a doctor serving there with the Canadian Armed Forces, deeply inspired and moved by what he saw, wrote these verses:

In Flanders' Fields
John McCrae, 1915

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.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the First World War ended. Civilians wanted to remember the people who had given their lives for peace and freedom. An American War Secretary, Moina Michael, inspired by John McCrae 's poem, began selling poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-Service community. And so the tradition began.

In 1922, Major George Howson, a young infantry officer, formed the Disabled Society to help disabled ex-Service men and women from the First World War. Howson suggested to the Legion that members of the Disabled Society could make poppies and the Poppy Factory was subsequently founded in Richmond in 1922.

The original poppy was designed so that workers with a disability could easily assemble it and this principle remains today

Importance of the two minute silence

THE Royal British Legion has always supported the traditional Remembrance Sunday services and the customary Two Minute Silence on that day.

As the national custodian of Remembrance, the Legion also believes that when 11th November (Armistice Day) falls on days other than Sundays - on working days - Remembrance should be brought into the everyday life of the nation on those days as well.

They say that the revival of support for observance of this demonstrates that, despite the passing of the years and the declining number of veterans, the nation still feels strongly about Remembrance.

Remembrance transcends all boundaries. The Legion seeks a small yet important individual and collective act, a rare moment when the nation can stand together and reflect on the price of freedom.

That price is still being paid. More than 12,000 British Servicemen and women have been killed or injured on active service since 1945.

"If we are to maintain our peace and freedom, we must always remember."

Katherine Jenkins at the Poppy Appeal launch in her Poppy Dress. All pictures courtesy of the RBL

Katherine Jenkins at the Poppy Appeal launch in her Poppy Dress.
All pictures courtesy of the RBL

Facts and figures behind the Legion

* The Royal British Legion safeguards the welfare, interests and memory of ex-Service people and their families and dependants.

* The Legion was founded in 1921.

* Some 10.5 million people in the UK are eligible to ask for its help.

* The Legion is one of the UK's largest membership organisations, with over 450,000 members (including the Women's Section). Anyone can be a member, ex-Service or not.

* You don't have to be a Legion member to receive assistance - but you must be an ex-Serviceperson or a dependant. Anyone who has been in the British Armed Forced for seven days or more (and their dependants) is eligible for help.

* People as young as 17.5 years can be sent on active service, so veterans are often much younger than people realise.

* There has only been one year (1968) since the Second World War when a British Service person hasn't been killed on active service.

* Each year the Legion answers thousands of calls for help to its helpline, Legionline.

* It helps with a huge range of issues, including counselling, job retraining, skills assessment, getting the right pensions and benefits, advice and interest free loans for setting up small businesses, welfare grants, Remembrance Travel to war graves, convalescent and nursing care, and home and hospital visits.

* The Legion has close links to many other charities, organisations and trusts, enabling it to draw on the best resources and expertise, and to refer people to those best equipped to help them.

*The Legion will be needed for as long as people continue to be affected by conflict. It doesn't advocate war but is simply there to support those who have been prepared to make a personal sacrifice through serving in the British Armed Forces.

* The Poppy Appeal raised over 26 million in 2006.

* In 2005 the Legion spent over 75 million on its work. Apart from donations, funds come from legacies, sponsorship, corporate support, fundraising events.

* More than 70% of the workers at the Poppy Factory are disabled or suffer from chronic illness. The Factory was designed to offer jobs to such people and its remit remains the same today.

* 300,000 staff and volunteers organise the Poppy Appeal each year

* More than 36 million poppies, 107,000 wreaths and sprays, 750,000 Remembrance Crosses and other Remembrance items will be made at the Poppy Factory in Richmond , Surrey, this year.

An expression of homage

THIS year Remembrance Sunday will be on Sunday 11th November.

The National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall is a unique expression of national homage devoted to the remembrance of those who have given their lives in war.

It was originally conceived as a commemoration of the war dead of the First World War but after the Second World War the scope of the ceremony was extended to focus on the nation's dead of both World Wars, and in 1980 it was widened once again to extend the remembrance to all who have suffered and died in conflict in the service of their country and all those who mourn them.

The service at the Cenotaph is framed to ensure that no-one is forgotten.

The wreath laid by The Queen and the other tributes placed on the Cenotaph are dedicated to all who have suffered or died in war.

Members of the Cabinet, Opposition Party leaders, former Prime Ministers and certain other Ministers and the Mayor of London are invited to attend the ceremony, along with representatives of the Armed Forces, Merchant Air and Navy and Fishing Fleets, and members of faith communities. High Commissioners from Commonwealth countries also attend the ceremony and lay wreaths at the Cenotaph.

Ulster Star
19/10/2007