During the First World War, some of the bloodiest battles took place in the fields of Flanders in Belgium and Picardy, northern France. When fighting ceased, bright red poppies grew where countless men had fallen.
John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Canadian Army, was so moved by what he saw, he wrote the poem In Flanders’ Fields, in which he describes how the poppies grew in between the crosses marking soldiers’ graves.
American professor Moina Michael had been working at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries Office in New York when she came across John McCrae’s poem, and was so deeply moved that she vowed to wear a poppy as a sign that the dead would not be forgotten.
In November 1918, Michael turned up to the YMCA Overseas War conference wearing a silk poppy pinned to her coat, giving out an additional 25 to her colleagues, which she had purchased using money she had earned for her work for the YMCA.
The delegates attending the YMCA conference followed suit, taking the poppy home to their relative countries and campaigning for it to become a recognised symbol of remembrance.
Just a few years later they succeeded, and the first official Poppy Day was held in Britain on November 11, 1921.