Poppy Day: 10 facts you should know

By Marilynn McLachlan

Bob Hill, president of the Masterton RSA and the national vice-chairman. Photo / Lynda Feringa
Bob Hill, president of the Masterton RSA and the national vice-chairman. Photo / Lynda Feringa

Today marks 92 years since the first Poppy Day was held in New Zealand in remembrance of fallen soldiers and to support returned soldiers in need along with their families.

In New Zealand, it is usually held on the Friday before ANZAC Day. However, it was moved to April 17 this year because it conflicted with Good Friday.

Here are 10 facts about this special day of remembrance.

1. The poppy flower has been linked to death since World War I

The soil in the fields of the battlefields of the Western Front was churned as the men fought - and while the poppy seed can lie for years, poppies can only flower in rooted up soil. The soil in the fields were so affected by the battles that in 1915 thousands of poppies blossomed.

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Clouds marching in for Anzac Day

2. 'In Flanders Fields' was originally thrown away

When Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian medical officer, conducted the funeral of a friend, he looked around and saw the death and suffering and, in a cemetery nearby, red poppies amongst the crosses. He took his notebook and wrote the words of 'In Flanders Fields' and, unhappy with it, tossed it away. A fellow officer picked up the poem and sent it to English newspapers. While some rejected it, Punch published it on 8 December 1915.

3. The idea of poppies as a symbol for remembrance was conceived by Moina Michael

Professor and humanitarian Moina Michael was so touched by McCrae's 'In Flanders Fields' that she wrote a poetry response, 'We Shall Keep the Faith'. She also vowed to wear a red poppy to symbolically remember those who served in the war in response to the first two lines of McCrae's poem - 'In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses row on row.'

Photo / Natalie Slade

4. A French woman conceived the idea of Poppy Day

Moina Michael's initiative became a reality at an event in 1920 when The American Legion made the red poppy an official symbol of remembrance. Madame Anna E. Guerin attended the event and conceived the idea that selling fake red poppies could help raise money for veterans, their families and those children orphaned and in poverty in northern France due to the war.

5. New Zealand placed its first order for poppies in 1921

Colonel Alfred S. Moffett took Guerin's idea to the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association who, in September of 1921, placed an order for over 350,000 poppies with Madame Guerin.

6. Poppy Day should have been on Armistice Day

Poppy Day was originally intended to be celebrated on Armistice Day (11 November) 1921, along with other Commonwealth nations. Unfortunately, the ship that was carrying the poppies arrived too late, so the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association decided to wait until the day before ANZAC day the following year. Since then, Poppy Day has been intrinsically bound with ANZAC Day in New Zealand.

Photo / Glenn Taylor

7. New Zealand didn't make its own poppies until 1931

The first poppies made in New Zealand were by disabled returned soldiers in Auckland and Christchurch.

8. By 1945 one in two New Zealanders wore a poppy on Poppy Day

As World War II quickly followed the first, public interest in Poppy Day swelled as lives were lost, people were injured and families destroyed. In 1945, 750,000 poppies were distributed - making it one poppy for every two New Zealanders. Poppy Day began helping another generation of war victims.

9. The present poppy design is 36-years old

The New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association changed to its present flat, Earl Haig design in 1978.

10. Production of poppies sold in New Zealand moved offshore in 2010

The Returned Services Association (formerly the Returned Soldiers' Association) announced that poppy production would be moved to Australia in 2010. It was a decision surrounded in controversy as Christchurch-based Kilmarnock Enterprises, who had been making the poppies for around 30 years employed 72 people - many who had mental or physical disabilities. There was further controversy when Chinese-made poppies made their first appearance in 2012.

- nzherald.co.nz

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