Poppy campaign supports a range of local causes

Spearheaded by the Red Deer Legion, the local poppy campaign continues to raise funds for charities and education programs.

Volunteers have been busy giving out poppies in exchange for donations – it’s a tradition that goes back to 1921. The Great War Veterans’ Association in Canada (the predecessor of the Royal Canadian Legion) officially adopted the poppy as its flower of remembrance on July 5, 1921.

Organizers of the local campaign say its purpose is to raise money in remembrance of the soldiers and the veterans that sacrificed their lives in the previous wars going back to World War I.

Campaign Chair Doug Rumsey said funds raised through poppy donations go to a number of local charities and education programs. He said the campaign brought in about $72,000 last year and the year prior to that as well.

Funding has gone to support Red Deer’s hospice, bursaries for education, and other non-profit organizations including various cadet groups, St. John’s Ambulance, the Bethany Care Centre and emergency services. It also helps to provide medical equipment for veterans.

“If a veteran comes in and needs a walker or a wheelchair, and can’t afford it on his own, we put the money up to buy it.”

According to the Royal Canadian Legion web site, the November campaign, which sees poppies distributed to Canadians of all ages, serves to perpetuate Remembrance Day by ensuring that the memory and sacrifices of veterans are never forgotten.

“The poppy also stands internationally as a symbol of collective reminiscence, as other countries have also adopted its image to honour those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

This significance of the poppy can be traced to international origins. Its association to those who had been killed in war has existed since the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century, more than 110 years before being adopted in Canada.

“The person who was responsible more than any other for the adoption of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance in Canada and the Commonwealth was Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian Medical Officer during the First World War,” says the Legion web site.

McCrae was born in 1872 in Guelph, Ontario.

With Britain declaring war on Germany on Aug. 4, 1914, Canada’s involvement was automatic. McCrae was appointed as brigade surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Forces Artillery.

In April 1915, he was stationed near Ypres, Belgium, the area traditionally called Flanders. It was there, during the Second Battle of Ypres, that some of the fiercest fighting of the First World War occurred.

Working from a dressing station on the banks of the Yser Canal, dressing hundreds of wounded soldiers from wave after wave of relentless enemy attack, he observed how “We are weary in body and wearier in mind. The general impression in my mind is of a nightmare.”

In May, 1915, on the day following the death of fellow soldier Lt. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, McCrae wrote his famous work In Flanders Fields, an expression of his anguish over the loss of his friend and a reflection of his surroundings.

“These 15 lines, written in 20 minutes, captured an exact description of the sights and sounds of the area around him.”

The poem was first published on Dec. 8, 1915 in England, appearing in Punch magazine.

Meanwhile, the local Legion also offers a Remembrance Day-themed poster, essay and poem competition for students. There are several categories which they can enter their work into whether it is a black and white or colour poster, an essay or a poem. They are also divided by grade level into differing age groups.

“The have until the end of November to submit,” said Rumsey. “We pick our winners locally, and then we have financial awards for them.” Local winning submissions are sent on to District Command and then if they win from there, they go onto Dominion Command.

The annual Remembrance Day ceremony starts at 11 a.m. at the Red Deer Arena. Rumsey recommends that folks arrive early to ensure they get a seat.