The Flanders Red Poppy – a symbol of sacrifice

Bill Nobile, writer of this article and a member of the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (Moths) in the Vaal Triangle, at a previous wreath-laying for fallen soldiers.



Bill Nobile

Sadly, many persons today do not understand the significance of the red poppy sold and worn on November 11 each year.

The Red Flanders Poppy is used throughout Britain and the English speaking Commonwealth as a symbol of remembrance of the sacrifice of 6 400 000 allied soldiers’ lives in World War 1 which was waged from August 1914 to the 11th of November 1918 when armistice was signed to bring the war to an end.

This was a war, the like of which had never before been seen and caused horrendous casualties which were reported as 3 000 000 Russians, 2 500 000 French, 887 858 British Commonwealth and 9 726 of South Africa’s brave men.

It was felt that a symbol was needed to act as a reminder of the lives lost and console those whose family members had no known grave. It was agreed that the Flanders Red Poppy be used as this symbol. This Poppy which had flowered for centuries on the blood soaked battlefields of Flanders was very familiar to the veterans of that battle. It subsequently also became familiar to the veterans of World War 2. Many of the ambulance personnel who survived the war were so badly wounded that they could not perform normal work and were offered sheltered housing and employment and were given the task of making the replica of the poppies. Money raised by the sale of poppies goes toward their upkeep.

It is now accepted that November 11 of each year is Remembrance Day in many countries around the world and at 11:00 on the November 11, parades are held, two minutes of silence are observed and those present and the public generally are encouraged to wear the poppy in memory and honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. So important is the need seen to acknowledge this sacrifice that in France and Belgium November 11 is a public holiday.

Veterans’ organisations were established in South Africa in 1922 and 1927. These organisations built cottages for the elderly and disabled ex-service men and women. Handmade poppies were imported from the UK and the proceeds from the sales were used towards the upkeep of the cottages.

After World War 2 and the Korean War, in which South Africa lost 6 865 men, the poppy remained the Symbol of Sacrifice, and still is to this day. SANDF members killed in Africa Peace Keeping missions as well as those killed in the border war also come under this symbol.

Without the sacrifice of these men and women who gave up their lives in the service of their country, South Africa would be a very different place today.

The writer of this report, Bill Nobile

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