I went to a British grade school in Mexico City. We wore a uniform. It was a grey skirt, shorts or trousers for the boys, white sox, black shoes, a white shirt, a green tie (both girls and boys) and a green blazer with the crest of the school sewn on the upper left hand pocket. My brother used to get into trouble because his badge kept getting ripped and he would take it off. That crest had to be on there. I learned to tie my own tie at 7 years old. Some kids wore clip-ons but most of us tied our own.
In November my first year, kids started showing up with red paper poppies pinned to the lapel of their blazers. I had never heard of Poppy Day but I loved the color added to the otherwise mundane clothing. I bought one and wore it even though I didn’t understand why. I looked forward to it every year. That splash of red.
When I was working at the British Embassy in Moscow, I saw people wearing poppies on their lapels and it took me right back to school in Mexico. I had forgotten all about those red paper poppies.
Recently I have been watching the BBC to give me a more worldly perspective on the news. And lately they are wearing poppies. I have poppies on the brain.
It was the 11th month, 11th day, 11th hour when hostilities ended. It was the end of the First World War, the war to end all wars. Poppies bloomed all across the fields where the battles were fought and lives were lost. A sea of red.
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.
Lieutenant Coronel John McCrae, 1919
Also known as Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, Veteran’s Day, it is honored around the world in different ways.
In the USA poppies are assembled by disabled and needy veterans in Veteran Hospitals. The poppies are given in exchange for contributions. The contributions provide financial assistance in maintaining these veterans’ rehabilitation and service facilities as well as the Verterans’ of Foreign War National Home for orphans and widows of the nation’s veterans. They aren’t as common here as they are in Britain but you can find them. Wear your poppy proudly!