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.

THE poppy as an emblem of war was inspired by a sober poem written in May 1915 by a Canadian doctor, John McCrae, who was in charge of a field hospital during the 2nd Battle of the Somme.

His friend, Lieutenant Alex Helmer, was killed on May 2. Without a chaplain, McCrae conducted his funeral.

Next day, sitting on the rear door of an ambulance overlooking the mud brown battlefield stained red by the first flowerings of the season's poppies, he wrote the poem.

The Northern Echo:

Poppy seeds lie dormant for years until the earth is churned up. Then they grow. No earth is more churned up than farmland that has been fought over, stomped over, trenched, bombed, shelled and then, finally, dug up to receive the dead.

The poem, published anonymously in Punch in December 1915, was read on November 9, 1918, by American teacher, Moina Michael, at a YMCA conference in New York. It inspired her to sell delegates silk "miracle flowers" to raise funds for veterans.

In 1920, the US adopted the poppy as its symbol of remembrance. In autumn 1921, a French YMCA worker, Anna Guerin, came to London and presented a poppy to Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who had commanded British forces on the Somme. He agreed that poppies should be sold that November.

In 1922 Major George Howson set up a poppy factory in Old Kent Road, London. Five disabled ex-servicemen assembled poppies that were designed to be fitted together by someone who had lost a hand. Howson wrote: "I do not think it can be a great success, but it is worth trying."

Within six months, 50 were employed; within ten years the factory had moved to larger premises and within 90 years the poppy had become so ubiquitous that even footballers wore it on their shirts.