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We shall not sleep

LanguedocLiving, Nov 8

Extracts from

In Flanders Fields (or We Shall Not Sleep)
by John McCrae, May 1915

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 origin of the red Flanders poppy as a modern-day symbol of Remembrance was the inspiration of an American woman, Miss Moina Michael - “The Poppy Lady”

It was on a Saturday morning, 9th November 1918, two days before the Armistice was declared at 11 o'clock on 11th November. Moina Belle Michael was on duty at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries' headquarters in New York. She was working in the “Gemot” in Hamilton Hall. This was a reading room and a place where U.S. servicemen would often gather with friends and family to say their goodbyes before they went on overseas service.

On that day Hamilton Hall and the “Gemot” was busy with people coming and going. The Twenty-fifth Conference of the Overseas YMCA War Secretaries was in progress at the headquarters. During the first part of the morning as a young soldier passed by Moina's desk he left a copy of the latest November edition of the “Ladies Home Journal” on the desk.

At about 10.30am Moina found a few moments to herself and browsed through the magazine. In it she came across a page which carried a vivid colour illustration with the poem entitled “We Shall Not Sleep”. This was an alternative name sometimes used for John McCrae's poem, which was also called “In Flanders Fields”. Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae had died of pneumonia several months earlier on 28th January 1918.

In her autobiography, entitled “The Miracle Flower”, Moina describes this experience as deeply spiritual. She felt as though she was actually being called in person by the voices which had been silenced by death.

At that moment Moina made a personal pledge to “keep the faith”. She vowed always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance. It would become an emblem for “keeping the faith with all who died”.

Compelled to make a note of this pledge she scribbled down a response on the back of a used envelope. She titled her poem "We Shall Keep the Faith". The first verse read like this:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

Three men attending the conference then arrived at Moina's desk. On behalf of the delegates they asked her to accept a cheque for 10 dollars, in appreciation of the effort she had made to brighten up the place with flowers at her own expense.

She was touched by the gesture and replied that she would buy twenty-five red poppies with the money. She showed them the illustration for John McCrae's poem “In Flanders Fields” in the Ladies Home Journal, together with her response to it “We Shall Keep the Faith”. The delegates took both poems back into the Conference.

The First Poppies Worn in Remembrance

After searching the shops for some time that day Moina found one large and twenty-four small artificial red silk poppies in Wanamaker's department store. When she returned to duty at the YMCA Headquarters later that evening the delegates from the Conference crowded round her asking for poppies to wear. Keeping one poppy for her coat collar she gave out the rest of the poppies to the enthusiastic delegates.

According to Moina, this was the first group-effort asking for poppies to wear in memory of “all who died in Flanders Fields”. Since this group had given her the money with which to buy them, she considered that she made the first sale of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy on 9th November 1918.



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