Poppy Day, Saturday
On Saturday, May 24, from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm the Lake Stevens American Legion Post 181 along with the Women’s Auxiliary will be giving away poppies at various businesses throughout the community. These poppies were handmade by disabled veterans and purchased by our local Legion post. Donations will be gladly accepted, and all money collected goes directly to veterans and veterans-related programs. There are no salaries and no overhead because Post 181 is a not-for-profit all-volunteer organization. This is an opportunity for the community to respond to the local American Legion for the services they have been able to do this past year based on the previous generosity of our citizens. If you are in the downtown area, Frontier Village area, near Tom Thumb at the south end of town, or at the new Wal-Mart off SR9, look for Legionnaires and Auxiliary members who will be offering you a poppy. Information about this tradition will also be available at each site.
Memorial Service, Lake Stevens
On Monday, May 26, at 10:00 AM there will be a community-wide Memorial Day Service at the downtown Lake Stevens War Memorial, located at 1808 124th Ave NE, Lake Stevens 98258. This is a full Memorial Day Service and will include lowering all flags to half staff, a speaker, reading the names of those engraved on the War Memorial, and the playing of “Taps.” For more information contact Tony at 360.631.3242.
Memorial Service, Machias Cemetery
Afterward at 12:00 noon there will be a Memorial Day Service at the Machias Cemetery. This will also be a full service to include a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps. The Machias Cemetery is located above the town of Machias at 12th St SE and 135th Ave SE, about three miles south of Lake Stevens.
“In Flanders Fields”
Here is the World War I poem “In Flanders Field” which made the poppy the symbol that it is today. Not too many people in the U.S. know this poem. Memorizing this poem is still a grade-school requirement in Canada.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
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 with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
By Major John McCrae, May 1915
Some of the bloodiest battles of World War I took place in the areas of northern France and southwest Belgium known as Flanders and Picardy. The British front line was determined to keep the Germans from traversing Flanders to reach the port of Calais, but were vulnerable on three sides. This made for a dangerous and bloody place to take a stand.
The destruction from the battles in this area reached beyond the battlefield to the towns and roads of the area, and led to the demolition of buildings, roads, and all plant life, leaving only mud. It is in this overworked soil where poppies will sprout because it has no competition with other plants. This was noticed as early as the Napoleonic Wars when red poppies grew on the graves of dead soldiers in the fields of northern Europe. Evidently, poppy seeds will lie underground for years and bloom if they are plowed up. In the spring of 1915 when the newly dug graves had disturbed the soil, red poppies flourished in the fields of Flanders in Belgium covering the vast meadows where the soldiers were buried.
The colorful red poppies added beauty and gave hope to those still alive, contrasting the dismal death that was everywhere.
Major John McCrae had been a doctor for years and had served in the South African War. However, it was impossible to get used to the suffering, the screams, and the blood in Belgium, and he had seen and heard enough in his dressing station in the first two weeks to last him a lifetime.
One death particularly affected McCrae. A young friend and former student, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, had been killed by a shell burst on 2 May 1915. Lieutenant Helmer was buried later that day in the little cemetery outside McCrae’s dressing station, and McCrae had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain.
The next day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the Canal de l’Yser, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem. The major was no stranger to writing, having authored several medical texts besides dabbling in poetry.
In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches in that part of Europe, and he spent twenty minutes of precious rest time scribbling fifteen lines of verse in a notebook.
A young soldier watched him write it. Cyril Allinson, a twenty-two year old sergeant-major, was delivering mail that day when he spotted McCrae. The major looked up as Allinson approached, then went on writing while the sergeant-major stood there quietly. “His face was very tired but calm as we wrote,” Allinson recalled. “He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer’s grave.”
When McCrae finished five minutes later, he took his mail from Allinson and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the young NCO. Allinson was moved by what he read:
“The poem was exactly an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word blow in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.”
In fact, it was very nearly not published. Dissatisfied with it, McCrae tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and it was eventually published in a London newspaper on 8 December 1915.
McCrae died of pneumonia in 1918, a common killer of Great War soldiers.
Inspired by McCrae’s poem, American Moina Michael wore poppies to honor the war dead. She also began to sell poppies to raise money for disabled veterans. After meeting Moina Michael in 1920, Frenchwoman Madame E. Guérin started selling handmade poppies to raise money for poor children who were living in the aftermath of the Great War. Soon thereafter Field-Marshall Earl Haig, the former British Commander-in-Chief, encouraged the selling of paper poppies to raise funds for veterans. This tradition spread to Canada and then to the United States where it is still practiced today. (Remembrance Day, Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, Decoration Day)
6. Poppies in a field near Flanders, Belgium