At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, one hundred years ago the Armistice to end the 1st World War came into effect. Tomorrow at 11am the staff at The Virginia Ash will observe a minute of silence in honour of those brave people who laid down their lives for this country so that we might live in a free society, free from tyranny and free from oppression. 100 years on, we should strive to keep their memories alive. And when we remember the fallen we are not "glorifying" war, as some have stated, but merely honouring the sacrifice of those men, women and animals who lost their lives in a war fought to keep our freedom, something we all now enjoy, but sometimes forget who sacrificed themselves to give us that freedom. So if you haven't done it already, please buy a poppy, even after tomorrow, and wear it with pride to help the Royal British Legion support the service personnel of this generation and their families who suffer daily from the sacrifices of their loved ones who keep us safe and defend our hard earned freedoms.
So why is the Poppy the symbol of the Royal British Legion?
Well, a serving World War One soldier named John McCrae was fighting in the second battle of Ypres near Flanders in Belgium during 1915. Alexis Helmer, a close friend, was killed during the battle on the second day of May. McCrae himself performed the burial service for his fallen comrade, and noticed at the time that poppies grew very quickly around the graves of soldiers who had died during the two long battles at Ypres. On the following day, he composed the poem "In Flanders Fields" while sitting in the back of an ambulance outside Ypres. Here is the poem he wrote:
McCrae’s poem inspired an American academic, Moina Michael, to make and sell red silk poppies which were brought to England by a French woman, Anna Guérin. The (Royal) British Legion, formed in 1921, ordered 9 million of these poppies and sold them on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately and that first ever 'Poppy Appeal' raised over £106,000; a considerable amount of money at the time. This was used to help WW1 veterans with employment and housing. The following year, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory to employ disabled ex-Servicemen. Today, the factory and the Legion's warehouse in Aylesford produces millions of poppies each year.