Lieuteneant Alexis Helmer’s untimely demise at the Battle of Ypres inspired his friend Lieutenant John McCrae to pen a poem In Flanders Fields, which included references to the red poppies that blanketed the graves of fallen soldiers.
McCrae’s poem seems to have struck a chord with thousands of people across the combatant nations. It certainly appears to have had an impact on American professor Moina Michael. In fact, so moved was Michael by the lines “In Flanders fields the poppies blow… between the crosses, row on row” that she published a poem in response entitled We Shall Keep the Faith, in which she vows to always wear a red poppy to remember those who died.
She soon launched a one-woman campaign to have the poppy adopted as the official symbol of remembrance.
The campaign was extraordinarily successful for, by the early 1920s, poppies were being worn in France, America and – thanks to the support of Field Marshal Haig, co-founder of the Royal British Legion – much of the British empire. Today, the Royal British Legion produces over 40 million poppies a year. All thanks to Michael, or as she is affectionately known, the ‘Poppy Lady’.