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Remembrance Day is Tuesday, November 11. It began as a visceral response to the terrible death toll of the First World War, but for Canadians, Remembrance Day has evolved into a tribute to all military dead and a celebration of the Canadian Forces in general. It’s a day when we honour the courage, commitment and sacrifice of veterans of World War I and II, wars in Korea, the Gulf and Afghanistan, as well as other conflicts and peacekeeping missions around the world.

This November 11th marks the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and the 75th anniversary of the beginning of WWII.

poppyThe red poppy, the ubiquitous symbol of remembrance which blossoms on Canadian lapels every November, was forever linked to the First World War and its casualties through John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields.

But its use was first championed by an American woman, Moina Michael who was entranced by McCrae’s poem and led a successful campaign to have the American Legion adopt the poppy as an official symbol of remembrance in 1920. It soon spread to France and by the following year it had also been adopted in Canada, Britain and Australia.

After its formation in 1925, the Canadian Legion, which became the Royal Canadian Legion in 1959, ran the annual poppy campaign.

In Flanders Fields

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario was inspired to write his famous poem in May of 1915 after presiding over the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier in the Flanders region of Belgium.

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.