From Flanders Fields to a symbol of remembrance

Belinda Crossman 23 October 2023
  • History & commemoration

Since WWI, Remembrance Day has been a time to remember all who have given their lives in service. Read more about Remembrance Day’s history and traditions.

Pinned to lapels or laid upon headstones and memorials worldwide, poppies remain indelible reminders of those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice.

Why poppies on Remembrance Day?

In 19th century English literature, poppies represented sleep or oblivion. But it was during World War I (WWI) that the red poppy became intertwined with remembrance.

On the battlefields of the Western Front, in soil churned up by shelling and trenches, Flanders poppies were among the first flowers to bloom. For many, their scarlet petals echoed the bloodshed of the Great War and they became a powerful symbol of the loss of life that the conflict represented.

Remembrance Day Poppy


In Flanders Fields

It was a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, who penned In Flanders Fields – the poem that first associated poppies with remembrance. Devastated by the death of a close friend and fellow soldier, LCol McCrae wrote the poem during the second battle of Ypres in 1915, and it was eventually published in Punch magazine.

LCol McCrae sadly died later in the war. However, his words are still recited by millions each year on Remembrance Day:

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.

Flowers of remembrance 

When she came across the poem three years later, American Moina Michael was so moved that she vowed to always wear a poppy in remembrance of those who had lost their lives, and began campaigning for the flower to be adopted as a national symbol of remembrance. She spoke about it at a meeting of YMCA secretaries attended by Anna Guérin, who began making silk poppies in France to raise money for war orphans.

In 1921, the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League – the forerunner to today’s RSL – sold its first poppies for Armistice Day, importing silk flowers from France and selling them for a shilling.

More than a century later, the red poppy has become an enduring symbol of the human cost of war, and is worn on lapels across the globe on 11 November each year.

The purple poppy was later adopted to honour animals who have died in service, while the white poppy represents peace. 

Daniel Keighran VC

Daniel Keighran VC wearing a poppy on Remembrance Day 2022.


Where to buy poppies for Remembrance Day

You can usually buy a Remembrance Day poppy through RSL Sub Branches. Poppy merchandise is also available at Military Shop.

You can also support RSL Australia's Poppy Appeal by planting a poppy in the virtual Remembrance Garden. Your donation supports veterans and their families, and you can dedicate your poppy in someone’s name.

Remember to remember

This Remembrance Day (11 November), join millions worldwide in honouring those who died in service to their country.

Attend an RSL Sub Branch service, observe a minute’s silence at 11am or donate to the Poppy Appeal, and help keep our service people’s legacy alive.

Lest we forget. 

Plan Your Remembrance Day