In the Commonwealth nations - UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - November 11th is Remembrance Day, in honor of those who fell in war, particularly the First World War. Today is Remembrance Sunday.
In late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were ripped open as World War One raged through the heart of Europe. Amidst the death and destruction, the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the otherwise barren battlefields.
The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was realized by the Canadian surgeon John McCrae in his poem In Flanders Fields. The poppy came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by those who died in World War One and later conflicts.
In Flanders Fields
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.
There is another poem associated with Remembrance Day and recited every year in honor of the War Dead. For the Fallen was written by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), in mid September 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. During these weeks the British Expeditionary Force had suffered tremendous casualties following its first encounters with the Imperial German Army at the Battle of Mons on 23rd August, its rearguard action during the retreat from Mons in late August and the Battle of Le Cateau on 26th August, and its participation with the French Army in holding up the Imperial German Army at the First Battle of the Marne between 5th and 9th September 1914.
For the Fallen was first published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914.
For the Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end,to the end,they remain.