Why are all those people wearing poppies? Everyone on British television – newscasters, weather forecasters, programme presenters – they’re all wearing poppies! This question and accompanying exclamation one often hears in Switzerland (and other, non-UK countries) when the November page is turned on our calendars. So, why this modest little wildflower and what its deep significance?
France, July to November 1916, the Battle of the Somme, one of the most destructive battles in the history of mankind took place, resulting in over 1’000’000 casualties. In the space of 20 minutes, the equivalent of the population of the city of Lausanne had been slaughtered. At the end of this meaningless bloodshed the battlefield was a wasteland of mud, corpses and broken defences – a brown and dead landscape; but then, in this field of death, life emerged. Bright and red, nodding in the stench-ridden breeze came the poppy. This wildflower, defying man’s stupidity, dared show its shining face to the world that was then changing forever. The poppy was not to change – not in 1916, not today. And to this day the poppy blooms – not only on lapels and on blouses, but in the fields of Flanders, as we are reminded when we hear a little of Colonel John McCrae’s poetry:
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.
John McCrae, 1915.
But what of now and how can we be involved?
The Swiss Branch of the Royal British Legion, founded in 1947, has been active in providing funds for war wounded, widows and orphans since that time. The branch currently counts some 180 members in this country and annually contributes around £20’000 (CHF 35,000) towards the ‘Poppy Fund’. This is particularly important in these days of more modern conflicts. Poppies can be obtained at outlets throughout Switzerland with collection points such as churches in Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, Basel, Zurich and Ticino.
Yes! In this neutral country that many of us call home, the poppy is still the symbol of remembrance – and thanks.
Please buy a poppy this Sunday and give generously. Funds are used to support serving and veteran casualties of conflict and their families and orphans.