In Flanders Fields
I am sitting on the high chalk downlands above Highclere Castle amongst the swathes of poppies specially sown around the fields this year. It is extraordinarily beautiful and peaceful.
The story of how the red field poppy became known as the international symbol of remembrance for those fallen in war is fascinating and moving. It began with the bright red colours of the poppies on the fringes of the battlefields in Belgium and France flowering in the warm spring of 1915. The actual battle lines and trenches were a scene of grey devastation and wasteland but on the edges the churned up soil would cause the poppy seeds to germinate in the warm spring bringing flashes of red to the monotonous landscape of war.
A Canadian soldier Major John Macrae serving in the artillery wrote one of the most famous First World War poems “in Flanders Fields” in early May 1915 following the death of a friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer at the 2nd battle of Ypres.
The origin of the poppy as a modern symbol of remembrance was the inspiration of an American woman, Moina Michael, who read the poem. She was so moved that she decided to always wear a poppy of Flanders Fields to keep the faith with all who died.
She campaigned tirelessly towards getting the Poppy emblem adopted as a national memorial symbol in the United States. On the 29th September 1920 the National American Legion convened in Cleveland and agreed on the use of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy as the United States national emblem of remembrance. Inspired by Moina’s idea, a French woman, Anna Guerin thought the idea could be expanded to help the needy amongst all the allies of France in Europe.
On the 11th November 1921 Anna sent some French women to London to sell their artificial red poppies on Remembrance Day and thence it became the emblem for The Royal British Legion since 1921, with funds raised going to their charitable causes.
This is why we have used the poppy as a symbol for Heroes at Highclere on August 3rd, for standing together, to reflect upon the past. The ethos of Sunday August 3rd however, is to understand how we can help other people today, families left to grieve, orphans of war, veterans, the doctors who seek to help… and all give a little money to buy clothes or food, or help towards hospital treatment, or a refuge for orphans.
I hope you will stand together with us.
What a pretty picture of you amongst the poppies!
My Dad is a survivor of World War II, he is 90.
We always bought poppies each year from the
Veterans, I knew it was to remember the fallen.
Growing up in Kansas my Dad taught me
to love and respect those who fought for our freedom.
I had read the Flanders Field poem, but until your
post never realized the significance of the Poppy to
the Veterans. Thanks for sharing!
It is a great story – one my husband researched for me. I have often thought that the poetry from the First World War is an extraordinary legacy. It formed the background sound in my mind when I was writing Almina
Thank you for sharing the origin of the poppy symbolism. The field of poppies looks quite inviting – the perfect backdrop for a lovely photo of you. The First World War has many lessons to teach, and I for one long to learn. Looking forward to Heroes at Highclere and everything that is planned to commemorate this terrible war.
Thank you for sharing the charming photo but mostly got refreshing me about the origin & significance of the red poppies. I so enjoy your blog!
On our web site are Centenary stories hosted by Christies – well worth looking at
I think it is amazing what you and your husband are doing to maintain Highclere and it’s history and traditions for future generations to enjoy – your blog is so interesting and the castle is magnificent – follow Downton with so much more interest as a result of your books and your blog – well done !!
How lovely! And the Poppies will be in full bloom for your up-coming event? Perfect! I hope someone will create greeting cards with a photo of your Poppy Field for your Gift Shop. It would encourage all to commit their Gratitude to writing and send to the.. “families left to grieve, orphans of war, veterans, the doctors who seek to help”, as you say.
Thank you so much for sharing these uplifting images and reminding me of the moving story behind them.
As a Canadian elementary school teacher, I have always encouraged my students to learn John Macrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields, for our Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 11th. They learn both the English and the French versions, and are encouraged to share the poem in front of the school during assembly. Over the years, they have come up with some very creative (and very heartfelt) ways of expressing their respect for our fallen soldiers. The poppy is iconic in Canada and everyone is proud to wear this brave little red flower on their lapel. Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful picture!
Do look at the centenary Stories – in a box on the front page of our web site They are for you and your pupils
Thank you for the pretty poppyfield around “The Lady” of Highclere. Very bright colors. I knew the symbol but thought it was of British origin. At least I learned something today. Thank you so much.
I enjoy your blog and the photos are delightful. My father served in WW1 and his death at a relatively early age was due to the conditions in which he served on the battle fields of Europe. We should remember not only those who die in battle, but those whose lives are changed forever as a result of their service. Many like my father whose life is cut short as a result of fighting for their country. Poppies are also sold in Australia on Remembrance Day.
They are symbolic aren’t they? They do not last long if you pick them, so transient , and the end of the war in 1918 was not the end of the war for those who served….
Thank you for sharing the history behind poppies. I have read your two books, they were absolutely fantastic (most interesting non-fiction book in history)! I know I am only a twelve-year-old and I have much to learn and experience before I can say, ” You are the best history professor…”
Well that is a complement!! Thank you
Thank you. As the daughter of an American soldier of WW ll, and the mother of a currently serving airman, my heart is always moved by remembrances of those who serve to preserve our freedoms. We hope to visit your lovely home in a few weeks. Though the poppies may be gone, we appreciate your giving honor to our loved ones, past and present.
I was suggested this web site by my cousin. I’m not sure
whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my trouble.
You are incredible! Thanks!
I love the photograph taken by your husband of you in the poppy field. My husband, son, his girlfriend and I attended the “Heroes at Highclere” yesterday, it was a wonderful event , we were there from 10.30am – 7pm. So much to see and do. My one disappointment was not to be able to see the poppy field. My husband asked you where it was as I was so keen to see it and you told him on a hill far away, too far to walk! !!
I was hoping it was going to be in your wild flower meadow by the castle, disappointment.
Thank you for the great organisation of the event, from Lord Carey starting with the opening service until Alexandra Burke closing it (albeit keeping us waiting 20 minutes). The air displays and the red devils were magnificent, as are your wonderful doughnuts available in the tearoom and marquee, I wonder where you get them from??
Great day, wonderful setting, thank you to you and your husband and all involved on producing such a great day.
Seeing you in the field of poppies and reading about the history of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance of our fallen soldiers brought back memories for me. My mother was a member of the American Legion Auxillary in the mid 1950’s and as a child I sold poppies to raise money for that organization. My brother served in World War 2 and was in the US Navy and US Army.
My daughter and I will be traveling to England in a few days as part of a group from SCETV which broadcasts the PBS series Downton Abbey. We will be at Highclere Castle the evening of Monday 18 and are so looking forward to our visit.
I hope you enjoyed your visit –
I was honoured to read in Flanders Fields on 3 August at the Highclere Castle event of 3 August (it was also read at the opening service ). Its always been my favourite poem of the War not least because it is loaded with emotion and was easily accessible to the soldiers of the day . It spoke to them in a way that some other poems, of the time , perhaps with greater literary merit, didnt. I served in the Black Watch , as did my father and brother and in May this year we along with other Black Watch veterans dedicated a memorial statue in Ypres to the close to 9,000 Black Watch soldiers who died on the Western Front. Since 1914, on maps , the South West corner of Polygon Wood , just off the Menin road, has been called Black Watch corner because of the action there, on 11 November, 1914 (First Ypres) ,when the Regiment, with others, broke up an attack by the Prussian Guard which was desperate to break through to Ypres and the channel ports beyond. The Kaiser had moved up close to Ypres to prepare for the victory parade that never happened. If you have an opportunity and are in Ypres the statue is worth a brief visit . The land on which it stands was donated by the local Belgian landowner. Ypres is only 70 minutes drive from Calais so is very accessible
I thought the Highclere event was marvellous -and well organised so thank you for allowing us to share your House and grounds . I liked the idea of the reconciliation football game which ended in a 1-1 draw. Thank goodness it didnt go to penalties!
I do not think we can ever have big enough hearts to understand what your predecessors in the Back Watch went through. I spent so much of the time I wrote Almina utterly devastated by the uncomplaining letters I was reading. “Lady Almina ” may have a title picked up by women but it is also a book for soldiers. If you see it try it! Please
Thank you for the note about your book. I Shall read it with interest and have passed the information on to members of the Choir.
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Our visit to England, and especially Highclere Castle was amazing! Thank you for spending time with us and making us feel so welcome. I’m anxious to read “Lady Almina”.
Great information. Lucky me I discovered your blog by chance (stumbleupon).
I have saved it for later!