The remembrance poppy was inspired by the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields”. Its opening lines refer to the many poppies that were the first flowers to grow in the churned-up earth of soldiers’ graves in Flanders, a region of Belgium. It is written from the point of view of the dead soldiers and, in the last verse, they call on the living to continue the conflict. The poem was written by Canadian physician, John McCrae, on May 3 1915 after witnessing the death of his friend, a fellow soldier, the day before. The poem was first published on December 8 1915 in the London-based magazine Punch.
In 1918, Moina Michael, who had taken leave from her professorship at the University of Georgia to be a volunteer worker for the American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries organization, was inspired by the poem and published a poem of her own called “We Shall Keep the Faith”. In tribute to McCrae’s poem, she vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who ought and helped in the war. At a November 1918 YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ conference, she appeared with a silk poppy pinned to her coat and (Remembrance poppy, n.d.)fought and helped in the war. At a November 1918 YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ conference, she appeared with a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed 25 more to those attending. She then campaigned to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance.
At its conference in 1920, the National American Legion adopted it as their official symbol of remembrance. Frenchwoman Madame Anna E. Guérin was invited to address American Legion delegates at their 1920 Cleveland Convention, about her ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea. After which, they too adopted the poppy as their memorial flower and committed to support Madame Guérin in her future US Poppy Days. It was there that the American Legion christened her “The Poppy Lady from France”. In the USA, she organised the very first nationwide Poppy Day, held during the week before Memorial Day in May 1921, using silk poppies made by the widows and children of the devastated regions of France.
When the American Legion reneged on the poppy, in favour of the daisy, the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ veterans supported Madame Guérin instead. Using French-made poppies, purchased through Madame Guérin, it was the V.F.W. that was responsible for organising the very first veterans’ Poppy Day Drive in the U.S.A., for the 1922 Memorial Day. In 1924, the Veterans of Foreign Wars patented the Buddy Poppy.
Madame Guérin’s ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea was also adopted by military veterans’ groups in parts of the British Empire. After the 1921 Memorial Day in the U.S.A., Madame Guérin travelled to Canada. After she addressed the Great War Veteran Association veterans on 4 July, they adopted the poppy emblem and her ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea too. They were the first veterans of the British Empire (now British Commonwealth) to do so.
Madame Guérin sent her representative Colonel Moffat (ex-American Red Cross) to Australia and New Zealand (and probably South Africa) afterwards.