This Remembrance Day, spare a moment to remember Moina Michael.
Never heard of her? Shame on you! Next to the Coca Cola logo and Apple’s Apple, this dynamic woman from tiny Good Hope, Georgia (pop. 200) came up with perhaps the most familiar symbol anywhere: the Remembrance Day poppy.
During World War 1 Moina was working at the YMCA in New York to help disabled veterans. Thumbing through an issue of the Ladies Home Journal, she came across John McCrae’s iconic poem In Flanders Fields. Moina was so moved she bought silk for 25 silk poppies which she distributed among delegates at a YMCA conference. And she took her idea and ran with it. The thrust of her appeal was: funds from poppy sales would go towards disabled veterans.
In 1920, what’s now the American Legion officially adopted Moina’s poppy as a national symbol of remembrance in the U.S. Her idea spread to France … then to the U.K. … and finally to the Commonwealth. Now it’s used in countries as diverse as Albania, Pakistan and Ukraine.
The US issued a postal stamp in her honour years ago.
Hello, Canada Post: lets remember Moina Michael next Remembrance Day and honour her with a stamp of our own.
Allow me to share four poignant memories of my own, this November 11th.
As a television reporter I covered the 75th anniversary of Vimy Ridge in northern France, where Canadian troops stormed an “impregnable” German stronghold in 1917.
I was accompanying surviving veterans (they’ve all since passed on). To pass some time, my cameraman and I popped into a very teeny, one-room school in a very teeny local village, just to look around. The teacher asked who we were. I explained. She explained to the class we were from Canada … and the kids all stood up … spontaneously, … and sang “Oh Canada.” In English. I felt as if I was in a movie.
In Holland, each year school children place flowers on the graves of Canadian soldiers killed during the Liberation in World War 11. During the 1994 anniversary, I asked a teacher how long they’d keep this up. She said: “Forever.”
At a little village in northern France a Canadian Spitfire pilot, William Ferguson, was killed trying to shoot up a German munitions train in 1943.
He’s buried in the local cemetery and they’ve named the town square in his memory. The locals, defying Gestapo orders, all came out for his funeral. Now, each year the villagers still come out to a little ceremony and put flowers on his grave. At a 1994 ceremony, I asked the current mayor (actually, the great grandson of the mayor of the time), why they still did this, year after year after year.
“Because,” he told me. “This young man came all the way across the world to help free us and we don’t want him to think we are ungrateful.”
Kapyong in Korea was Canada’s most famous battle in the so-called forgotten war. I interviewed a survivor, Bob Menard, who went out to collect the bodies of the Canadian dead, killed when their foxholes were overrun by hundreds of Chinese soldiers. He discovered that none died alone. They went down in little groups of two. Menard told me: “They were all found, two together. They were defending each other to the end.”
I don’t know if November 11th is heart-breaking or heart-stirring.
Now when I reflect on such stories, I also remember the poppy brainstorm of Moina Michael from tiny Good Hope, Georgia.