Raising the Poppy Flag

The Royal canadian Legion flag party lowers the colours during Last Post at the Poppy Flag Raising ceremony
The flag party lowers the colours during Last Post.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Campaign in Cambridge. Raise your hands –  who knew  that? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? I know about it because I still sometimes get waylaid emails for the cadets, now that I’m not the chairperson anymore. There wasn’t any announcement in the Cambridge Times. Nothing on any of the three local Legion branch websites. But the date seemed early. Usually its tucked right up against Halloween, so I doubted myself. I reached out to one of my contacts to verify for me. Yes, yesterday. Form up at 10:30 for step off at 11am. 

Bon. So under an overcast gray sky I attended the flag-raising ceremony.

The Poppy Flag raising is a collaborative event, but it’s still a fairly recent tradition in Cambridge. I like having a more public, official-feeling start of the poppy campaign, and a flag-raising certainly makes it feel important. I mean, after (Canadian) thanksgiving, you start preparing garden beds for winter, you flip your wardrobe to the heavier sweaters and the lined coats. We flip the calendar to the next month, we set the clocks forward, we carve our pumpkins and check our fire alarms, and there are suddenly poppies at the Tim Horton’s counter and the Shopper’s Drug Marts. But it’s stealthy. They just kind of appear one day. The Canadian Legion Poppy campaign committee has been toiling like worker-bees in the background though – organizing boxes and volunteers and schedules. In the dark of night (or sometime after mid-morning coffee… I don’t know) they fan out with their coin boxes and flocked pins and suddenly, they’re everywhere. 

I mean, poppies don’t need an introduction. We know what they’re about. We know why we wear them. We know the end of the campaign. So does the campaign really need an official kick-off?

Sure it does. 

The ceremony itself wasn’t lengthy… it was maybe 20 minutes. But it is the catylist to get everyone to face the same direction. It serves to put everyone in a frame of mind, as I do with this remembrance series, to dedicate (in whatever way they want to) time to considering the role the armed forces plays in our lives. It’s not a coincidence that I start my series on the same day as the flag raising. 

Sadly, it’s not well publicized, so most of the attendees were the cadet corps and the parents who brought their cadets to City Hall. There were some dignitaries from City Hall, regional council, and the provincial government, as well as a collection of Legion members. There were a few people who happened upon the celebration while walking their dogs or running errands, and instead of just barging through the civic square, they stopped to attend. 

I mean, I get it… it’s a friday, late morning. Not everyone can be available then, especially if you don’t know about it. But there was poignancy to it – A quick presentation, a cadet running the flag up the pole, Last Post, Lament, Rouse, and then hot chocolate and a chance for some fellowship with members of the Royal Canadian Legion, NATO Veterans’ Organization of Canada, the Canadian Airborne Forces Association. For me, it was also a chance to chat with cadet parents (and cadets) that I no longer see. 

A lovely young man from the Naval League handed me a poppy as the even was forming up, so I now have the first one of a half dozen I’ll lose between now and Remembrance Day. When I was in the UK, I bought a crochetted poppy with a pin at the Imperial War Museum in London. I’ll attach that to one coat, and put the legion one in my car as the spare I’ll use when I’m in a different coat, or, yaknow, have lost the other legion ones I’ve bought. The point is to be both a visual cue to think about what wearing a poppy means, but also to provide a revenue stream to support programs for veterans. So although I now have a lovely and stable-on-my-coat poppy, to the poppy box, I go, and the flag-raising guides others to the boxes as well.

The guidelines that the Royal Canadian Legion says that you should wear it for the month of November, and then no longer. My Uncle Jack was a WW2 vet, and he wore his poppy all year long – every day for the rest of his not-quite-98 years. He also pierced it with a Canadian Flag pin, which apparently isn’t good form.  I wasn’t going to tell him that he, a veteran, wasn’t entitled to wear his poppy however he wanted. He was never without it. On his light blue summer jacket or on his black wool peacoat in winter, there was a poppy.  When he died, he wanted a closed casket, but his close family had a chance to say our goodbyes beforehand. Almost everyone in that room had a poppy to place on his lapel, in case no one else thought of it. As if no one else would think of it. 

During the season of the poppies, may we find our own ways to quantify what Support For Military and Veterans means to each of us. This year, may we all take some time to think about what the journey beyond that flag-raising looks like.

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