Celebrating 100 Years with Anna Guérin – “The Poppy Lady from France”

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Lest we forget poem for the fallen veterans on remembrance day nov 11

In honor of Remembrance Day this November 11th, and with the greatest respect towards anyone who has written about this subject in the past, we celebrate the perpetuating existence of the Remembrance Poppy Day within the British Commonwealth countries (formerly ‘Empire’) should be credited to one person alone, Anna Guérin.

Canadian John McCrea exists at the heart of every historical account as inspiration to Anna. The physician from Guelph, Ontario, wrote his historical poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ whilst serving as a CEF artillery officer in Belgium, in 1915. Immortalizing poppies, it gave inspiration to many.

Using that poem as inspiration of purpose, the French woman Madame Anna A. Guérin is the most significant personality in the development of the concept of selling silk poppies in honor of the fallen in war. She saw the potential of the poppy emblem to help those who had survived the First World War, alongside the remembrance of those who had lost their lives in it. What singles her out is the fact that her dynamic personality drove forward the campaign … where she led, so many others followed.

Guérin was born Anna Alix Boulle on 5 February 1878 at Vallon (Vallon-Pont-d’Arc), France. Her parents were farm-owner Auguste Boulle and his wife Anna (née Granier). She married Cuban-born French national Paul Rabanit in Vallon, on 6 November 1897. Soon after the wedding, they travelled to the French colony of Madagascar.

Initially, her Poppy Days benefited the widows and orphans of the war devastated regions of France. She was christened “The Poppy Lady from France” after being invited to address the American Legion, at its 1920 convention, in Cleveland, Ohio, about her original ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea.

Her idea was initially created so all World War I Allied countries could sell artificial poppies, made by French widows and orphans, as an emblem for remembering those who gave their lives during the World War I; at the same time, creating a method of raising funds to support the families of the fallen and those who had survived, thereafter. Now, the Remembrance Poppy encompasses all conflicts that have occurred since.

In 1919, Anna began holding Poppy Days in the United States – distributing artificial paper poppies, in exchange for donations. Local women and girls were the mainstay of her operations wearing sashes bearing “In Flanders Fields the Poppies Grow” as they sold for donations.

American Legion National Commander Colonel Frederick W. Galbraith Jr. invited Anna to explain her ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea at the American Legion Convention in Cleveland, Ohio in September 1920. There, the Legionnaires christened Anna “The Poppy Lady from France”, They adopted the poppy as their memorial emblem and agreed to support her in her Poppy Days.

anna Guérin image behind a red poppy with label stating 1921In April 1921, every American State was informed that the French-made silk poppies (organized by “The Poppy Lady”) had arrived in the United States. Also in that month, Anna Guérin’s American and French Children’s League had to undergo an enforced change. If the League was to continue functioning, it had to be recognized by the National Information Bureau in New York City. It was, to this end that, in October 1920, League President Hartley Burr Alexander, wrote to the Bureau’s Director. The Bureau gave its approval but with certain caveats, one being that Anna’s American and French Children’s League should have a wider scope and be aligned to its Paris-based committee of La Ligue Americaine-Francaise des Enfants.

On 27 April 1921, the wider scope was achieved by a merger with a newly formed charity, which had one Rt. Rev. Herbert Shipman as its helm, reverting to its original American-Franco Children’s League. This merger caused upset. Some old League members did not approve, they were not prepared to move to the new League. These included the old League’s Chairman Mrs. Tyler Perine and its New York State Committee Chairman Mrs. Mercedes McAllister Smith.

The new League took over the old League’s headquarters in New York but the break-away group continued its own poppy campaign, in competition with the new League, working out of Mrs. McAllister Smith’s New York home.

Even the US President got caught up with the muddle and the National Information Bureau issued a statement saying that only the new League had been endorsed to sell poppies, no other.

Anna Guérin was honored as the creator and founder of the concept of selling silk Poppy for the benefit of the fallen, the veterans and their families of war.

During the week before America’s Memorial Day (or Decoration Day), on 30 May 1921, Madame Anna Guérin and her ‘American-Franco Children’s League’ carried out the very first nation-wide Poppy Drive in the world: carrying out Poppy Days in every State. Leading up to the Poppy Drive, articles appeared all over the country, appealing for “every man, woman and child” to wear a poppy. In these Poppy Days, the charity was supported by the American Legion, and its Women’s Auxiliary; the ‘War Mothers of America’ (Service Star Mothers); Women’s clubs; and other organizations.

It all resulted in Mrs. McAllister Smith bringing a $200,000 court case against the Right Rev. Herbert Shipman (Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of New York). Maurice Leon (member of law firm Evarts, Choate, Sherman & Leon; writer; representative of the French Government during the War), George W. Burleigh (Judge Advocate-General of the New York National Guard), Bronson Batchelor (of Bronson Batchelor Inc., publicity agency), Roger B. Jenkins (officer of the Bronson Batchelor Inc. agency), Barry N. Smith (Head of the National Information Bureau) and Anna Guérin. The case was eventually dismissed.

At the beginning of November 1921, Anna Guérin attended the next American Legion Convention, Kansas City, Missouri. She had been personally invited but she also went to try and persuade the delegates from reneging on the poppy, as their memorial flower – in favour of the daisy. This was to no avail, the daisy was adopted and Daisy Days occurred.

Although the American Legion’s Women’s Auxiliary kept the poppy as its memorial flower, by 23 January 1922, it decided not to continue giving support to Anna Guérin’s American and French Children’s League’s Poppy Days. The Veterans of Foreign Wars filled the void the American Legion vacated. As a consequence, in May 1922, it was the Veterans of Foreign Wars that became the first veteran organisation to carry out the very first nation-wide Poppy Drive in the United States.

In October 1922, the American Legion repudiated the daisy and again adopted the poppy. For the 1923 US Poppy Days, both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion purchased French-made poppies from Madame Guérin. For the 1924 US Poppy Days, the Veterans of Foreign Wars had patented its own “Buddy” poppy, made by veterans. The American Legion’s veterans could not make enough poppies but its Women’s Auxiliary helped out.

CANADA was next for Madame Anna Guérin.

On 4 July 1921, she spoke about her ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea to men of the Canadian Great War Veterans’ Association (G.W.V.A.) in Port Arthur, Ontario (now Thunder Bay). On 6 July, the Canadian veterans adopted it. The Canadians were the first of the British Empire veterans to do so. In 1922, the bulk of poppies were made by Canadian disabled veterans. Anna handed the poppy mantle over to Captain James Learmonth Melville, M.C., who was Principal of the Vocational School for Disabled Soldiers. In 1923, Lillian Bilsky Freiman’s ‘Vetcraft’ disabled veterans took over the manufacture of Canadian Remembrance Poppies.

BRITAIN

GREAT BRITAIN was the next to receive Madame Anna Guérin’s attention. Anna Guérin landed at the Port of Liverpool, at 7.30 a.m., on 30 August 1921. She took examples of her French-made poppies to the British Legion men and explained her ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea. The Legion was very sceptical and Anna Guérin’s credentials had to be checked out but, before September was out, the British had adopted the ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea.

Because it was a very poor organization, Madame Guérin paid for the British remembrance poppies herself and the British Legion reimbursed her, after the first British Poppy Day on 11 November 1921.

Anna Guérin was very rarely credited in the British newspapers and “widows and children of French soldiers” were sometimes mentioned but often the poppy makers were referred to as “peasants”.

From 1922 onwards, British veterans made Remembrance Poppies at The Poppy Factory and from 1926 at Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory.

AUSTRALIA

Australia was very faithful to Anna Guérin, continuing to be loyal to French-made poppies until 1926, inclusive. The country’s veterans had adopted Anna Guérin’s ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea before her representative Colonel Moffat arrived so he did not need to persuade, only promote and help organise the Poppy Day campaign. At the 6th annual congress of the ‘Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia’ in Brisbane (5 August 1921), it was declared that the decision was suggested by Canada.

Australia’s first Poppy Day was on 11 November 1921, Armistice Day.

Although Anna never visited Australia, she maintained communication with the Australian veterans, over the years. Newspapers tracked Colonel Moffat’s movements and recorded all facts about the country’s Poppy Days.

NEW ZEALAND was the most loyal of the World War One Allied nations to Madame Guérin. The country continued to purchase French-made poppies through until 1928, inclusive.

On 26 September 1921, the Dominion Executive of the Returned Soldiers’ Association passed a resolution to adopt the red poppy and Anna Guérin’s Poppy Day idea. They ordered and paid for 350,000 of them for Armistice Day but the ship ‘Westmorland’ arrived too late and wanting to recover their costs, the RSA sold them on the next available commemoration date and that was Dardanelles Day 1922. Ironically, New Zealand didn’t serve in the Dardanelles.

So ANZAC Day became, by accident, the day the Poppies have been sold in New Zealand ever since and why they are the odd one out. As with Australia, Anna Guérin never visited New Zealand but she maintained communication with its veterans. Many New Zealand women remained “representatives” of Madame Guérin through those years and they gave talks at schools etc., promoting her idea. New Zealand newspapers tracked Col. Moffat’s movements and recorded facts about the country’s Poppy Days.

row of red poppy flowers in green grass

Thanks to Wikipedia

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