In the fields of Flanders the poppies are blowing
Between the crosses, row upon row
Which mark our place……
and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Barely heard among the guns below……
We are the dead. A few days ago
We’ve lived, felt the dawn, seen the sunset shine,
Loved and been loved, and now we lie,
In the fields of Flanders.
This most evocative poem, “In the fields of Flanders”, goes back of course to the Great War. John McCrae, a Canadian military doctor, was inspired to write it after presiding over the funeral of a fallen comrade at the Battle of Ypres in May 1915. The poem was first published in Punch magazine later this year. Many were enormously inspired to action by the poem.
Among them, at the time, were two great activists: Moina Michael, an American, and Anna Guérin, a Frenchwoman. After the armistice, the two began to promote the poppy as a symbol of remembrance and to raise funds for the victims of war: not only the disabled, but also widows and orphans. In late 1921 Guérin persuaded the then fledgling Royal British Legion to take up his idea of a “Poppy Day”. Initially, there was skepticism. But she showed samples of silk poppies, made in France, and offered to supply the stock. The very first British Remembrance and Poppy Day took place on November 11, 1921. It was a huge success. The Royal British Legion earned £106,000, largely from poppy sales, the equivalent of £5million today. And the poppies sold out.
A key figure in stepping up the early work of the Royal British Legion was a little-known soldier, Major George Arthur Howson, MC. He served on the Western Front with the 11th (Service) Battalion Hampshire Regiment from late 1914 and went on to have an impressive war record: renowned for his bravery in rescuing a fallen man in the River Somme in 1916, he was also ‘mentioned in dispatches’ later that year. Then, on July 31, 1917, the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, he was seriously wounded in action while commanding troops constructing machine gun emplacement by intense aerial bombardment. He continued, encouraging his men, only stopping for treatment hours later when the task was complete. For his bravery and selfless service, he was awarded a Military Cross.
After the war, Howson dedicated his life to providing jobs for disabled veterans. He became founding president of the Disabled Society in 1921. The following year, the Royal British Legion realized the need to have remembrance poppies made in England rather than France, and commissioned the Disabled Society to do so. So in 1922 Howson established the very first Poppy Factory on London’s Old Kent Road. Only 5 disabled veterans were initially employed, but the factory quickly expanded taking on 50 more and producing over a million poppies within months. By November 1924, the Poppy Factory had manufactured over 27 million poppies – all funds going to “The Legion” for the welfare of veterans and their families – as it continues today.
Although the Royal Hampshire Regiment no longer exists, having merged with the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment in 1992, the story of Howson and so many others from past conflicts lives on at the Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum in Winchester and other beautiful Army museums. near the peninsula barracks.
Come in and remember them!