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A time to remember

Novembre 2011
11/11: non è un numero magico ma la data del Remembrance Day, il giorno in cui gli inglesi onorano tutti i loro caduti, fin della prima guerra mondiale. Il simbolo del papavero? È nato da una commovente poesia...

di Julian Earwaker

File audio:

Poppies in London's Trafalgar Square
Poppies in London's Trafalgar Square
Adrienne Wakeling
Adrienne Wakeling

Every year in November, Britain becomes an island of red poppies. Across the country, millions of poppies are displayed in people’s homes, workplaces and on their clothing. It is not a surprise that Remembrance Day, 11 November, is commonly known as Poppy Day. The idea came at the end of the First World War in 1918. The public wanted to help ex-servicemen and women and to remember those who died fighting for their country. 

Two women, Moina Bell Michael, an American teacher, and Madame Guerin, a French national, were inspired by a popular war poem (see interview) and began selling paper poppies to raise funds. The British Legion was founded in 1921 and adopted the red poppy as its logo. It organised the country’s first Remembrance Day that year: on the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. The red poppy quickly became a universal symbol of remembrance.


Today, the Royal British Legion campaigns and provides welfare for members of the armed forces and their families. It organises the annual Poppy Appeal in the two weeks up to 11 November and has become the national custodian of remembrance. “We are responsible for the Two Minute Silence on Remembrance Sunday and 11 November, bringing remembrance into the national calendar,” says Adrienne Wakeling of the Royal British Legion. “It’s a time when the nation stands together. Whether they’re in the supermarket, the office, or their own kitchen, it gives everybody a chance to reflect on the sacrifices made on their behalf since World War One.” 



Speaker: Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent)

If you visit Britain in late October and early November, you will notice that a lot of people are wearing red poppies. This is in preparation for “Remembrance Sunday,” the day when the country remembers those who have died in fighting since the First World War.

The tradition was started by a charity organisation called the Royal British Legion 90 years ago and it is now used  to commemorate all wars. But why the poppy? We asked Adrienne Wakeling, who is County Manager for the Royal British Legion in Suffolk:

Adrienne Wakeling (Standard British accent)

Well, that started from a poem from the First World War, written by a doctor, a Canadian gentleman, Dr. John McCrae. He wrote a poem called “In Flanders Fields” and he was working in a field hospital in Flanders, in Belgium, during the First World War. So they were burying a lot of people, but the poppies kept coming, despite the disturbance that was happening around, with trenches being dug, mortars being fired, and bodies being buried, poppies somehow kept resurfacing. And I think it was the idea that perhaps a symbol of life going on, despite (the) sacrifices that have been made.

This is McCrae’s poem:  

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.


In addition to helping people remember the dead, the poppies also have a more practical purpose: they raise money for wounded servicemen and women, as Adrienne Wakeling explains:

Adrienne Wakeling 

All the poppies are made here. Most of them are made at a factory in Richmond which employs disabled ex-servicemen, and they make up the individual poppies, the little paper ones that people buy, and they also make up the wreaths that we have made for every organisation. I mean, this year we’re aiming to raise £40 million. Last year we raised 36, which for a two-week period is pretty good going, for any organisation, really!

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We are responsible for the Two Minute Silence. To be responsible. Quando vogliamo dire a qualcuno che siamo responsabili di un evento usiamo il verbo to be responsible for seguito dal complemento, oppure da un verbo nella forma in -ing: We are responsible for introducing Poppy Day, Siamo responsabili per l’introduzione del ‘poppy day’. Attenzione! In italiano si è soliti usare la parola ‘responsabile’ anche come sostantivo, per indicare che una persona è un responsabile, qualcuno che gestisce una determinata cosa. L’equivalente inglese si costruisce con lo stesso verbo. es: Sono il responsabile della produzione > I am responsible for production!

They also make up the wreaths that we have made for every organisation. Troviamo due usi diversi del verbo make. To make up, phrasal verb, ha molteplici significati: inventare, creare, comporre, decidere. ‘Compongono anche le corone…’ To have something made invece è una forma passiva impersonale usata quando chiediamo a qualcuno di fare qualcosa per noi: ‘...che facciamo preparare per tutte le organizzazioni.’