Walton County (GA) Copyright 2007 D. Nelson
Moina Belle Michael was born near Good Hope in rural Walton County, Georgiaon August 15, 1869. She taught school in the surrounding towns and country before in 1913 being employed at the State Normal School and its YMCA in Athens. It was there that in 1918, two days before the World War I armistice, she read the following poem by John McCrae:
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.
The poem moved her so much that she vowed to always wear a poppy in honor of those fallen war heroes. She started making silk poppy flowers that she and some friends wore at the 1919 post-war parade and the idea quickly spread. Today the red silk poppy is the universal symbol of tribute to all veterans of all wars and and is worn on Poppy Day, November 11, the day in 1918 that World War I ended.
Incidentally, Moina Michael lost her fiancee on the fields of Flanders - he was killed two days after she read the poem and only four hours before the end of the war.
The Poppy Fields
Flanders (and Belgium as a whole) saw some of the greatest loss of life during World War I, in particular from the three battles of Ypres. Due to the hundreds of thousands of casualties at Ypres, the churned-up farm fields broke into millions of red blossoms, a miraculous carpet of poppies, as if the blood of the dead were still flowing. The phenomenon of the recurring battlefield poppies—at least in Western Europe - is attributed to millions of tiny seeds of the local red poppy that lay dormant in the fields for decades, and are released and awakened whenever warfare turns the soil like plows.