Poppies were first used to remember soldiers after WWI. They grow in fields that have recently been plowed or disturbed in some way, and were noticed to grow in the spring of 1915. John McCrae, a Canadian doctor, wrote about the poppies blowing amidst the crosses marking the graves of fallen soldiers.
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…
I studied WWI and the art and literature that was created from it during my study abroad travels in Europe. We memorized this poem and I love it’s simple cadence.
I wanted to make a simple poppy flower with the preschool aged children at storytime without sewing or using hot glue. We used three felt circles of different sizes threaded onto a pipe cleaner. Then we used craft/tacky glue to glue small pompoms into the centers.
Small black pompoms
Green pipe cleaners
1. Cut a large, medium and small circle from red felt. They don’t have to be perfectly round. I just freehanded it.
2. Fold the circles in half, then in half again. Snip the center point to create a very small hole. If the hole is too big, the circles will not stay put on the pipe cleaner.
3. Thread the circles onto the pipe cleaner starting with the largest on bottom.
4. Fold the top part of the pipe cleaner over so the felt doesn’t come off.
5. Glue the black pompoms onto the smallest felt circle. With the preschoolers, we used cotton swabs to dip into the tacky glue which I put on little plates.
We made simple paper plate wreaths with paper stars glued to them as we talked about decorating graves for memorial day. My six-year-old wanted to add red and blue hanging down from his wreath.
As I have been studying about my ancestors and relatives who fought and died during their service in the military, I learned about a Confederate soldier, my 4th great uncle, who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His name is Charles Baldwin Royston and he died in a hospital in 1864 after being captured and imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington D.C. My mom wrote about discovering his military information here.
I was surprised to learn that there is a Confederate Section at Arlington for soldiers who were buried there and at the Soldier’s Home Cemetery in DC during the Civil War. They were not given the same headstones as Union soldiers and their families were not allowed to decorate their graves. In 1901, the Confederate graves were all moved to a new Confederate section and given granite headstones.
Since we are not able to travel to Virginia to decorate his grave, we made a remembrance wreath for him using a photo of his headstone.
I was unsure how to honor my relatives who served for the Confederacy. They were Americans, but they fought against the U.S.A. As I studied this question, I came to the decision that learning about his life and trying to understand his experience was the best way I could honor him and his life and service.
In 1898, President of the United States William McKinley said, regarding the change in policy for decorating Confederate graves, and in an attempt to rally support from the Southerners for the Spanish American War:
“Every soldier’s grave made during the unfortunate civil war is a tribute to the Ameridcan valor. And while when those graves were made, we differed widely about the future of the Government, those differences were long ago settled by- the arbitrament of arms— and the time has now come in the evolution of sentiment and feeling under the providence of God, when, in the spirit of fraternity, we should share with you in the care of the graves of the Confederate soldiery.” (Quoted in the Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 96, Number 116, 15 December 1898)
I set out to learn as much as I could about Charles Baldwin Royston’s experience during the war. As I learned, I used Twile.com to create an interactive timeline of his life. [Update 2023 – Twile no longer exists, sadly.]
Happy Memorial Day!