History of The Buddy Poppy
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, ninety eight years ago, in November of 1918, the guns fell silent across the trenches of France and Belgium as the two sides, both the Allied and Central Powers, being totally exhausted of men and material, agreed to an armistice. Belgium had been saved from famine by the American Commission for Relief in Belgium, headed by Herbert Hoover, and Britain had been rescued from need by American convoys which had broken through the German submarine blockade around the Isles, but the people of France and Germany were starving. Conditions in Germany were so bad as a result of the sea blockade of imports of food (and other material) that the men in the Kaiser’s navy had, on the night of 29 - 30 October 1918, (inspired by the Russian revolution) mutinied in Wilhelmshaven, and created a revolution which had taken over the government. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and fled to The Netherlands. Social Democrats proclaimed a republic on the 9th of November, took over the German government with Friedrich Ebert as Chancellor, and hastily sent a delegation headed by Mathias Erzberger to attend the armistice negotiations previously agreed-upon on November 5th.
Representatives of the two sides met in a railway car of French Marshal Ferdinand Foch’s personal train located in the French forest of Compiegne. The German delegation was presented with a document which Marshal Foch had personally drafted. It ignored the “Fourteen Points” which our President Wilson had made the cornerstone of his peace proposal, and contained no input from the Central Powers. Among other things, it required that the entire German High Seas Fleet be impounded by the Allies, that all submarines be decommissioned, that the Rhineland be turned over to the control of the Allies, complete German demilitarization, and that onerous reparations be levied upon Germany. The only changes the Germans were allowed to make were to correct errors, such as the count of the number of submarines listed to be decommissioned, which was incorrect. Erzberger was given 72 hours to sign. He was shown newspapers from Paris that the Kaiser had abdicated. Then he was instructed to sign, regardless of the document’s content, by Chancellor Ebert. He did so about 5 :12 AM November 11, Paris time, and the word was radioed to the front to execute the cease fire at 11:00 AM, as anticipated.
Fighting continued all morning of the 11th of November. Artillery fire, machine gun and rifle fire crossed "no man’s land”, and casualties and deaths occurred. When it finally became known that the end was to occur at a given hour, many loaded their artillery, mortars, and rifles with the intent of being the last to fire a shot at the end of the war. Indeed, there was a great crescendo at exactly 11 AM. No one knows how many were harmed by that last burst of fire, but hundreds did die or were wounded on the morning of November 11, 1918.
Then, there was an eerie silence. At first, most were afraid to raise their heads above the trenches for fear that the enemy would not obey the cease fire. Then, one by one, soldiers began to climb out of their muddy holes. The reactions varied from man to man and trench to trench. Some celebrated. Some crossed the line to shake hands or share cigarettes with their former enemies. Most just sat down on the ground and relaxed for the first time in months or years. Many stretched out and slept. Then, one by one, they began to turn and walk back to the rear. They left their rifles where they lay after climbing out of the trenches - they no longer had need of them. As they trudged back to the rear, they dropped all of the impediments of war - ammunition belts, shovels, knives, packs, leggings, helmets, just about everything except their canteens and the clothing which they needed to keep warm against the increasingly cold November weather. The first thing they met as they walked back were the big guns with their ammunition canisters, loaded ones stacked in neat piles and empty brass lying in heaps. Then they passed the rows upon rows of coffins, some empty, many laden and waiting to be loaded on trucks to be taken away. Then the men gathered in crowds, waiting for someone to come with trucks or other forms of transportation to take them away from the battlefield, for no one had anticipated the requirement to transport whole armies of men away - and where would they be taken - and who would feed them? But thank God the shooting was over.
For many years, this date was commemorated as “Armistice Day”, and was recognized by the wearing of Red Paper Poppies in a man’s lapel or pinned to a woman’s hat or dress.
The proceeds of the sale of the Red Paper Poppies went to needy veterans. The Red Poppies were in memory of the following poem. It was written by a Canadian military doctor for a burial service for a friend, Canadian Lt. Alexis Helmer, who had been killed by an exploding German artillery shell at the Second Battle of Ypres. It is said that he wrote this while sitting in the open rear door of an ambulance parked in a field where the incoming shells had made craters and thrown up heaps of dirt, but the seeds of poppies had nevertheless turned the field into a blaze of red color.
In Flanders Fields
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