Friday, November 11, 2005

no red poppies for us

Today is Veteran's Day in the US, which is usually not a very big deal, especially here in California (I seem to remember getting a day off, when I lived in Boston).

But, it's also Remembrance Day, which is a very big deal, for the Commonwealth countries, France, and Belgium.

It's interesting that in this country, we seem to be much more interested in World War II (movies, books, etc.) than in World War I. I guess fighter pilot battles are more exciting than trench warfare.

Personally, I started reading up on WWI after reading L. M. Montgomery's Rilla of Ingleside, which is really a wartime novel disguised as a children's book. The story begins right before England declares war on Germany, stretches through four long years of war, and ends just after the Armistice is signed, telling the story from the perspective of a teenage girl on the Canadian homefront.

I first read it when I was nine years old, and although it took me a few readings to adjust to the darker, more intense tone, Rilla eventually became my favorite Montgomery book, I think with good reason.

In the novel, Rilla's brother Walter is killed in the Battle of Courcelette, after writing a famous war poem entitled The Piper. In researching the historical background of the book, I discovered John McCrae, a real person who lived a similar story. A Canadian physician who served in a French military hospital, McCrae wrote the famous poem entitled In Flanders' Fields, before succumbing to meningitis and pneumonia. The poem makes reference to the blood-red poppies that grew in Flanders, where so many soldiers died.

Those red poppies are now worn every year on November 11th, in most of the former Allied countries. It's a sad and beautiful tradition, and as an American, I'd never heard of it, until I read about that poem.

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