Thursday, August 14, 2014

World War I Commemorations Pop(py) Off

As Britain kicks off observances marking the 100th Anniversary since the beginning of World War I, poppy fields prepare to grow sparse as the flower will likely be in high demand over the next four years. The popular remembrance flower became a focal point in art installations and reenactments alike. If you don't know what Remembrance Day is (me), you may be wondering why the Commonwealth countries love their poppies.

The best example of poppy symbolism comes from Westminster Abbey. If you watched the Royal wedding a few years ago (you did), you noticed the renowned tomb of the Unknown Warrior that Kate Middleton had to sidestep around in order to walk down the isle. The tomb greets all who enter the church and is framed by its signature slew of poppies. 

Image source: Puzzles Games

Poppies first came to symbolize fallen soldiers in John McCrae's 1915 poem, In Flanders Fields. After the Flanders Fields battles of World War I, poppies were the only thing that sprouted from the distressed battlegrounds in Belgium. Shortly thereafter, the red flower became synonymous with a soldier's sacrifice.

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.
So, World War I commemorations have begun and the poppies are a'flowin. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge along with Prince Harry helped plant a few of the 888,246 ceramic poppies along the moat of the Tower of London representing the nearly one million lives lost. The art installation titled Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red will come to an end on November 11th, after the last poppy is to be planted, symbolizing the end of the war in 1918. 

Image source: Smithsonian

Image source: Smithsonian
Image source: Telegraph

Created by artist Paul Cummins, the poppies are available to buy online for £25 each (or if you live in the United States $75 total, including shipping), which you will receive sometime after the installation is over. I totally bought one. Proceeds will go to various service charities. You can take a look at how the poppies were made here:

Rounding out the week in poppies, historical reenactors staged a World War I battle as a million poppies rained down upon them, once again symbolizing Commonwealth casualties in the war. Held at the Tank Museum in Bovington, southern England, there was a replica tank, an airplane display, and a remembrance service.

Image source: Buzzfeed

I generally associated poppies with the flower field in The Wizard of Oz that rendered people comatose (also, opiates) BUT the flower's symbolism has been running strong in Commonwealth countries for the last 100 years.

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