Poppies a symbol of sacrifice

Centenary of the Armistice in 1918
Centenary of the Armistice in 1918

Volunteers are needed to knit or crochet commemorative poppies.

The famous poem In Flanders Fields, composed by Dr John McCrae, a doctor with the Canadian forces in France and Belgium, led to the adoption of the poppy as the symbol of the sacrifice of the Great War (and later conflicts), for what has become the British Commonwealth of nations.

However, the poppy as an emblem to be worn in remembrance of the war dead was conceived by an American woman, Moina Michael, who was working, with the YMCA in New York, on November 9, 1918, among young US servicemen about to depart for France.

Browsing through a magazine, she came across a picture of a poppy and the words of McCrae’s famous poem that included the ‘instruction’ to those who would take the places of the dead on the battlefield:

“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.”

Moina Michael described her reaction to the poem as being almost a spiritual epiphany and she resolved to wear a poppy in remembrance of the war dead.

Feeling compelled to make a note of McCrae’s words, she scribbled on the back of a used envelope and resolved to ‘keep the faith’. Setting down her response in verse form:

“Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,

Sleep sweet - to rise anew!

We caught the torch you threw

And holding high, we keep the Faith

With All who died.”

(Extract from We Shall Keep the Faith by Moina Michael, November 1918).

By 1921 the poppy had been adopted by the various organisations in Britain formed to assist the war veterans and their families, particularly the disabled. The annual fundraising under the aegis of the Earl Haig Appeal began. Haig’s name would appear on the central black ‘button’ of the poppy for many years.

Now, to mark the forthcoming centenary of the Armistice in 1918, volunteers with the Northumbria Project have resolved to place knitted or crocheted poppies at the entrance to cemeteries and church burial grounds in North Tyneside. This will be done at all cemeteries containing Commonwealth War Grave headstones, or family memorials inscribed with the name of a casualty.

For several months project members, assisted by local community groups, have been busy making thousands of poppies to be placed at the cemeteries in October 2018, for the poppy appeal period up to November 11.

More poppies are needed and anyone willing to help can contact either Diane Humberstone who proposed the initiative, or Liz Liddle, at the project workroom, or by email to newsletter@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk. Patterns and wool will be provided.

The project workroom (Room B9) at Linskill Community Centre, North Shields is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for enquiries and for anyone to bring information about relatives lost in the war. The Memorial Garden is open for public visits during the opening hours of the centre, 8am to 5pm daily.