Field of red poppies

Georgetown woman travels to Flanders memorial

What characterizes Georgetown? Images spring to mind of a picturesque town square, great schools, friendly people, and of course, red poppies. As the Red Poppy Capital of Texas, Georgetown is closely associated with these vibrant, graceful flowers. But outside the city limits and beyond Texas, the red poppy has a meaning all its own.

Winnie Bowen, an avid world traveler who chronicles her adventures and has written several travel books, visited the region where the red poppy gained international significance. In 2012, while journeying to see Amsterdam’s famed tulip fields, Winnie detoured to Belgium. “I travel more as a student than a tourist. I get off of the beaten path most of the time,” says Winnie. “Flanders, although fairly well known, is kind of off the beaten path.”

Winnie and her travel buddy, Selma, bundled up on a brisk April morning and drove through the Belgian countryside. “I did see lots and lots of poppies when we were driving through parts of the country. . . . They were just growing out of nowhere,” Winnie recalls. Winnie’s destination was just outside the town of Waregem, at the Flanders Field American Cemetery and Memorial.

Red Poppies

As she has at many war memorials she’s visited, Winnie appreciated the carefully-tended grounds honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The Flanders memorial marks the resting place of more than 400 American servicemen who fought in the region during World War I. “It’s the smallest American cemetery in Europe and the only one in Belgium,” says Winnie. During the war, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae immortalized Flanders in the renowned poem “In Flanders Fields.” After burying a dear friend, McCrae noticed red poppies blooming in the war-ravaged soil, around the graves of the fallen. The poppy became an international symbol commemorating soldiers who died in war.

Another soldier, American Henry Purl Compton, also admired the poppies. At the end of World War I, Compton sent poppy seeds to his mother, who lived on East 7th Street in Georgetown. She planted them in her front yard. Today, papaver rhoeas blossoms in yards citywide in spring, and locals and tourists flock to celebrate the flowers at the annual Red Poppy Festival. So the next time the poppies bloom, take a moment to welcome their beauty and remember their meaning.

Don’t miss this year’s Red Poppy Festival, April 25–27. Go to for more information.

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