Flanders' fields

How much of Remembrance/Armistice Day ceremonies do Canadians and Americans have in common? Here are some things that Canadians have:

  1. those little felt poppies
  2. “In Flanders’ Fields” by John McCrae
  3. a moment of silence at 11:00 am

Do you guys have these?

Don’t recall any of those in the US in my experience, even amongst people who know what those refer to.

Then again, Veteran’s Day as regards the general public here seems to have transformed into a second Memorial Day. Not entirely surprising in a country where few people know that WW1 didn’t involve Napoleon (directly), think Flanders is a dessert, and point at Africa when asked to place Canada on a globe.

O le mea a tamaali’i fa’asala, a o le mea a tufanua fa’alumaina.


We did when I was young observe 11:00 on 11/11; that has been lost completely in the NOW sense of time.


Flanders is a dessert? What idiots! Everyone knows Flanders’ Fields is Ned’s backyard.

Mmmmmmmmmmm, dessert.

We Americans (ooops, pardon me, citizens of the United States) never did the poppy thing, at least not in my living memory.

I’ve read about it in English novels, though. Must be one of those things you guys have in common with the Teabags.


The US doesn’t remember WWI much. We got in near the very end, the Central Powers collapsed soon after, and we weren’t much hurt. We did, however, want to forget it as soon as possible.

We also have a vague notion that we won it single-handed.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Well, I remember the red poppies, and I ain’t that old (30). Come to think of it, I haven’t seen them around, lately, though . . .

Our local Veterans’ Day remembrance is a service at the Veterans’ Memorial and a full-page thank-you in the paper to all the local servicemen who served in any armed combat. Plus the VFW goes out and puts new little American flags on the graves of soldiers who died in the wars. But for most people it’s business as usual, which is kind of a shame.

Veterans of the Foreign Wars here in the United States exchange hand made poppies for small donations, usually at Memorial Day in May, though. I have one straw hat that I save to wear at the town Memorial Day parade, and every year I get a poppy from one of the vets walking along the parade route – it has several on it now.


I’ve seen the poppies, though they’re not as common here as the OP implies they are in Canada.

And, yeah, I’ve read the poem (a long time ago), but AFAIK there are not huge gatherings held to hear someone read it aloud or anything like that.

I asked a friend of mine who grew up in Kansas during WWII (She would have been in her mid-teens in 1945) if she had learned the famous poem by the Canadian Army Medical Corps doctor, John McCrae. She recalled it being taught to her in Greade School in the late 1930s.

I know from family that it is very well known in Great Britain (or at least it used to be).

I will go as far to say that I suspect that “In Flanders Fields” is the most widely-known Canadian work of art in the world. McCrae, who died later in the war of disease, was so disgusted with the slaughter around him that he threw his Military Cross, a gallantry award, into a canal in France.

Re: the poppy: I have a photo dated 1917 of a young Canadian university engineering student wearing a large crepe-paper poppy on the lapel of his civilian suit. (He was later killed in the autumn of 1918, after joining the Canadian Army.)

The little paper (now, alas, plastic) poppies seem to have appeared first in the 1920s, and were originally made by disabled veterans under the trade name “Vetcraft.”

I was always taught to wear only one, to remove it after the 11:00 am ceremonies, and to dispose of it “in a dignified manner.”

Americans should remember that many thousands of young US boys crossed the border into Canada during 1914-17 period to join up, so much so that three battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were offically known as “Canadian American” battalions.

I traded a couple of dollars for red paper poppies last year for Veteran’s Day.
I read “In Flander’s Field” to my Sunday School class on that weekend.
Sadly, very few people under 50 or 60 know about the poem (I’m 43 but I like poetry)

My guess would be that most of the WWI remembrances that the US has were wiped away by the WWII experience. Our men were really in combat only about 8 months, between April and November 1918, and we lost about 100,000 men. The US economy never got really on a wartime footing. There was no rationing. The First World War was quickly forgotten in the US when our really serious war, WW!!, began. The whole country was at war and knew it was fighting for its life. We were attacked by surprise. There were truly evil leaders abroad to oppose. We were in it to conquer rather than to influence the peace.

This is, I think, the difference between America and the British Commonwealth as regards feelings toward the various World Wars. The British Commonwealth thinks of WWI as its big war and its great tragedy. Millions of British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander young men lost their lives in that war. Not that many Commonwealth citizens died in WWII. Sure, they lost a few hundred thousand, like we did, and that was a terrible tragedy for everyone involved. But MILLIONS of Commonwealth citizens died in France between 1914 and 1918. If I am correct, the Australian and New Zealander national days commemorate the ANZAC troops who fought in WWI.

The US commemorations of wartime dead and of those who served our country are Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day. Though Veterans’ Day is the Monday of the week of Nov. 11th, I don’t think Americans are commemorating the dead of any specific war on either of those days. This is definitely not true of Commonwealth commemorations, which on Nov. 11th are directly devoted to the dead of the First World War. That’s why we don’t do poppies or read “In Flanders Fields”.

This is all very big in Australia. Poppies, a minute of silence, and that bugle tune I keep forgetting the name of. The enormous ANZAC losses at Gallipoli, in WWI, seem to be burned really really deeply into Australian consciousness.

The poppies I refer to are indeed ubiquitous up here - I’d say half to three-quarters of people wear them on or about Remembrance Day. They are customarily sold by veterans, purchased on a pay-what-you-will basis by passersby, and doled out to small children, who promptly remove the green inner part and fold the poppy in half, placing it in their mouths so they look like a pair of obscene red lips. The minute of silence is observed pretty much everywhere.

For those of you who have been deprived of In Flanders’ Fields, I will post it.

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.

I should point out that in Canada, Remembrance Day does not only commemorate WWI; it commemorates all wars in which Canada has fought (at least in living memory), although it does indeed have its origins in WWI. It’s roughly equivalent to the US Memorial Day in that way, I suppose. And it’s much more present in our national consciousness than it seems to be in Britain as described. Nearly every Canadian schoolchild knows In Flanders’ Fields or the French translation.

The Brits do have a way with war poetry but the best one is still:

Dulce et Decorum Est
Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
I have a not-entirely-tonguincheekless collection of war poetry at: http://www.geocities.com/~jbenz/warart.html

Lex Non Favet Delicatorum Votis

I might add that 25% of Britian’s young men were lost to that most stupid of wars, WWI.
Americans do not think much about that war. I think we lost more to the flu epidemic of 1917 than we did to the War.
Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth really made me aware of the horror of that war. PBS had a Masterpiece theatre on it.

Thanks so much for posting “In Flanders Field”–a beautiful and moving tribute to those lost.

I doubt most americans could tell you the signifigance of 11 11 11, and we have a problem remembering the difference between Memorialday( end of May- to remember those who died in war dating back to the war between the states 1860’s) and And Veterans day ( november originaly Armistice day 11-11 , changed to veterans day after WW2 [instead of having VE and VJ days] now honoring ALL veterans, peace time as well, I think the general attitude towards the Great War in the US is that it was a big mistakethat we got involved at all. Of course once we did get into it WE won it, in fact the war wasn’t important to anybody in anyway till WE were envolved. After all it had dragged on for years untill WE got there then it was over in months. About the only commimeration of WW1 around here that I have noticed is the annual airing of Sgt.York on the PBS station. For you non-USA folks Sgt York won that war single handed. Here is the poem that gives me a sense of that war,

“I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,when spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendevous with Death…”
There is more. it is short but i can’t type soo,
at the end he says “But I’ve a rendevous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town;
When spring trips north again this year
And I to my pledged word am true, I shall not fail that rendezvous.”
Alan Seeger 1888-1916

Not by law, but there de-factor rationing by very strong propaganda, and some shortages. (My wife is a docent in an historic house.)

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Any morbid folks like me who enjoy this sort of stuff, get hold of THE PENGUIN BOOK OF FIRST WORLD WAR POETRY. All the above and lots lots more.

See also the paintings of Otto Dix, particularly the triptychs METROPOLIS and WAR.