Wearing the poppy

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Today is supposed to be Fashion Friday here on Following Augustine, but publishing a typical fashion post on Remembrance Day seems frivolous, almost disrespectful. Instead, let’s take a look at how and why we wear the iconic symbol of this sombre occasion, the little red poppy.

For some of my readers, a bit of explanation may be needed. Here in Canada, as well as in the UK and other Commonwealth countries, November 11 is known as Remembrance Day. It is a solemn day for remembering and honouring those who have given their lives in war, more like Memorial Day in the US than Veterans Day.

Inspired by the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, the Remembrance Day poppy is an artificial flower that has been worn since 1921. Though some say that its red colour represents blood shed in war, more truthfully, it is simply the colour of the common field poppies that were the first flowers to grow on the disturbed earth of the battlefields of northern France and Belgium and on the graves of countless soldiers.

remembrance-day-poppyIn Canada, millions of poppies are distributed freely in the days leading up to Remembrance Day. Donations received by the Canadian Legion Poppy Fund are used to support veterans and their families in need. Prior to 1996, our poppies were made by veterans with disabilities in workshops in Montreal and Toronto and served as a small source of income for them and their families. In 1996, the Legion awarded a contract to a Canadian company to produce the poppies but it maintains strict control over their production .

There are many questions about how the poppy should be worn. According to Canadian tradition, the poppy is worn on the left breast or lapel symbolizing that you keep those who died close to your heart, but in Britain many say that men should wear it on the left and women on the right. This year I’ve decided to wear mine on the right because, like most right-handed women, I carry my handbag over my left shoulder. It seems to me that knocking my poppy off and leaving it lying in the dirt or covering it with my purse strap would be much more disrespectful than wearing it on the wrong side. Queen Elizabeth II, who isn’t usually hindered by a purse, wears hers on the left. Unlike most of us who wear a single poppy, she also chooses to wear a cluster of them.

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The British poppy has a small green leaf that is often positioned at 11 o’clock representing the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the time that World War I formally ended. The leafless Scottish poppy, like our Canadian one, is more botanically accurate and also less expensive to produce.

In spite of the fact that I have tried to convince my husband that he shouldn’t replace the pin on his poppy with something else to make it more secure, he insists on using a tiny Canadian flag or maple leaf pin to hold his in place. The Canadian Legion’s position is that nothing should be substituted for the poppy’s original straight pin. Unfortunately, redesigning the poppy to better secure it to clothing would increase production costs. There are ways to prevent it from falling off, however. The tiny plastic sleeve that is often used as a pierced earring back works perfectly. If you don’t have such a thing available, a bit of clear tape also works well.

I like what the Royal British Legion says: “There is no right or wrong way to wear a poppy. It is a matter of personal choice whether an individual chooses to wear a poppy and also how they choose to wear it. The best way to wear a poppy is to wear it with pride.”

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