Happy Memorial Day! You may have bought a crepe paper poppy or seen them during this time of the year. I hadn’t really understood why veterans used the poppy as a symbol of remembrance until I started to research WWI for my upcoming book, Silver Moon.
What do poppies, Belgium, Ontario, and poetry have to do with one another? Let me explain.
In Silver Moon, I highlight the story of three men from Ontario, fighting on the Western Front during WWI. I did quite a bit of research for this book. Tying in real life events, places, conflicts, and battles became a priority to me as the stories of my characters unfolded. My facts came from various books and websites. One of the best being The Canadian Encyclopedia.
I learned just how pivotal a role Canadian men played in WWI and particularly in Flanders, Belgium around the city of Ypres. In part, my heritage is French/Canadian and Belgian, so the history of these two countries blending together during WWI kept me searching for the story behind the story that I wrote. Following is a taste of what my characters endured.
Excerpt from Oshki’s Journal from Silver Moon
April 21st, 1915
We are weary, worn, and battle-fatigued, but thank God we were joined by a rag tag band of British and remnant French forces. We prevailed in keeping the enemy from advancing into Ypres. I’m resting. I squint as I write this by the light of the moon, which hangs like a drop of silver mercury over our heads, a tiny candle, and a box of matches I found yesterday in a cubby hole in the trench we occupy at the moment.
Something in me tells me the worst is yet to come, but I don’t want to believe it. How beastly we men have become, but, no, that is too good a comparison. We are worse than the beasts of the field, for they kill to eat, but we kill for much lesser things.
I must try to focus my mind as Maang-ikwe taught me, or I will surely submit to the fear rising in my chest like fire; it burns worse than the gas does. I will set my pencil down now and rest until it’s my turn to keep watch.
Vimy and Passchendael: A bit of history
This excerpt is from The Canadian Encyclopedia website…
“British and French strategists deplored diversions from the main effort against the bulk of the German forces on the European Western Front. It was there, they said, that war must be waged. A battle-hardened Canadian Corps was a major instrument in this war of attrition (see Canadian Command during the Great War). Its skill and training were tested on Easter weekend, 1917, when all four divisions were sent forward to capture a seemingly impregnable Vimy Ridge. Weeks of rehearsals, stockpiling, and bombardment paid off. In five days, the ridge was taken.”
Library and Archives Canada/PA-1017
Silver Moon opens in the wee hours of the morning before the battle for Vimy Ridge, which was the highest point in the area with a route to the sea and railroad access. Clearly, whoever had control of Vimy Ridge had a vast advantage over the opposing forces.
Where do poppies come into the picture?
The poem, In Flanders Fields, by Dr. John McCrae, a man from Ontario who served at Flanders, made the poppy a symbol of remembrance to the many men who fought and died there.
In Flanders Fields
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.
Poppies actually did grow in Flanders after the war, covering a war-torn land in beauty, where many men lost their lives. To this day different military and veteran organizations use the symbol of the poppy to raise funds to aid veterans disabled from war and to remember the fallen.
Read more about how the poppy became a symbol of remembrance on The History Channel website.
Thanks for taking a trip back in time with me today! I promise more such trips ahead.
Five-star review for Silver Moon…
The central characters are all powerful and heroic in their own ways, but I felt most for Oshki and Jimmy in the trenches. The descriptions of the physical experiences and hardships there were visceral and vivid and stayed with me for a long time after I finished the book. Overall, Silver Moon is a highly recommended read for fans of historical wartime fiction, powerful emotive drama, and excellent atmospheric writing.”–K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite