Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 39, September 1995

Why is the red poppy the symbol of Anzac Day??

Of the many young men who died in the First World War was Dr John McRae, a Canadian medical officer. He was responsible for the adoption of the corn poppy as the symbol of remembrance for the fallen.

In 1915 McRae was serving at a field hospital near Ypres. Outside the windows he saw the red corn poppies growing in profusion over the graves and between the trenches. He remembered the Greek legend that the poppy was created by the god of sleep; to McRae it symbolised the everlasting rest of the fallen. He turned this image into the poem "In Flanders Fields" which ended:

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow.

When dying of pneumonia in 1918 he asked for these flowers to be strewn on his grave. Every year a wreath of poppies is placed by his tombstone in France and since 1921 the poppies have been used in remembrance of the war dead.