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.

“THE red poppy, the flower which our soldiers saw by thousands during their sojourn in France, the flower which has grown on many of the graves of the fallen brave, was seen in every direction in Darlington today, for there were few people who had not purchased one “in remembrance” and to aid the funds of the British Legion,” reported the Northern Despatch newspaper on the evening of November 11 100 years ago.

The Despatch was the evening paper for south Durham, and its morning sister paper, The Northern Echo, noted the following day: “The poppy was universally worn. It was the first occasion upon which the scarlet flower of Flanders was used in remembrance of the fallen.”

So the remembrance season of November 2021 is the 100th anniversary of Britain’s adoption of the poppy.

The Northern Echo:

The idea was inspired by a poem by Canadian soldier John McCrae (above), which the daily papers’ weekly sister, the Darlington & Stockton Times, published at the head of its report (below).

The Northern Echo: How the D&S Times reported the first "Poppy Day" 100 years ago

Poppy seeds lie dormant for years until the earth is churned up, and then they suddenly spring to life. 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.

Inspired by McCrae’s poem, an American academic, Moina Michael, sold silk “miracle flowers” to delegates at a YMCA conference in New York in 1919 to raise funds for veterans. In 1920, the US adopted the poppy as its symbol of remembrance and in September 1921, Anna Guerin, a Frenchwoman who had been fundraising during the war in the US, brought the idea to Britain. The British Legion commissioned her to make one million poppies in France and then, on October 6, 1921, Earl Haig decreed that November 11 would be “Poppy Day” in Britain with eight million poppies for sale.

“The poppy forms a red mantle round many a soldier’s grave in Flanders, and Darlington’s full acceptance of the significance of the emblem was easily observable,” said the D&S Times. “There were 18,000 poppies on sale in Darlington, and so assiduous were the lady sellers that nearly the whole of them were sold.”

These lady sellers were the wives of councillors – in 1921, Darlington’s only female councillor had recently died leaving the town’s council an all male affair – who had been given the selling job by the mayor, Cllr Seaton Leng.

“The Flanders poppy was the emblem of gratitude and sacrifice proudly worn by thousands of citizens,” said the D&S. “Many ladies willingly endured the extreme severity of the weather in the early part of the day in their voluntary duty of disposing of the flower to aid the funds of the British Legion.”

At the end of the day, the Echo reported that the women had raised £281 14s, and with several more collecting boxes still to come in, it was hoped that proceeds from the first remembrance poppy sale would top £300.

The Northern Echo: remembrance poppy