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.