There can be no other flower that evokes an emotional response like a poppy.
Since 1921 the poppy has been the symbol of remembrance for the fallen in the First World War and subsequent conflicts since.
Obviously as every November comes around and the poppy boxes appear public awareness is heightened and this year it will probably more in people’s minds than ever as it will be exactly 100 years since the Armistice was signed to end the “war to end all wars”.
For the last 4 years there have been several major events held commemorating various battles and milestones that devastated a generation and also helped shape the world we live in now.
We have a lot of family history tied in with events in Northern France and Belgium from 100 years ago. Between us we have 4 members of our families buried in France and Belgium and Viv’s great grandad commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial - his body never found after Passchendaele in 1917. Over the years we have paid several visits to where they lie and where they fell – the poppy a constant companion and reminder.
On our travels, we’ve been to the medical station just outside Ypres that John McCrae worked at and where the idea for “In Flanders Fields” first originated, its first line so evocative – “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses row on row…”. It’s a peaceful place now and those crosses have been replaced by the all too familiar Portland stone headstones at the site of the Essex Farm Commonwealth War Cemetery where, amongst the 1200 graves of British Servicemen is one for Rifleman Valentine Strudwick. His “claim to fame”? He had lied about his age when he signed up to do his bit for King and country…..and was killed in action just 15 years old…….
It was “In Flanders Fields” and that opening line that first gave rise to the imagery of the poppy as being used to represent the horror of war and which was picked up as a symbol of remembrance.
First taken up in America then used in the UK from 1921 since then it has become synonymous with the toll of war on those who didn’t come back, their families as well as the ones that did make it back but may never be the same ever again either in mind or body.
There is so much that the poppy stands for and we should never forget. It’s great that the last 4 years has seen some outstanding events take place, from the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” installation at the Tower of London, the ongoing tours of “Wave” and “Weeping Window” and the sale of the poppies used in the installation all reinforcing the symbolism of this simple yet instantly recognisable flower.
We’ve even seen a dramatic art installation that used the left over sheets of card after the poppy petals had been cut out – Corneila Parker’s war room. And we’ve also come across them on our travels too at war memorials the length and breadth of this country and beyond.
Our last visit to the battlefields was in 2014 a couple of weeks before the official start of the 100 year commemorations. We’re probably overdue a visit back and despite knowing so much about our family that lie in various corners of foreign fields there is so much still to tell. From their own personal stories, to finding and visiting their graves or memorials. From the great work the Commonwealth War Graves Commission does to all the stories like Valentine Strudwick that you come across and hear about that bring home the brutality of the conflict. One of the most shocking, the death cells and execution post at Poperinge just outside Ypres where they used to shoot deserters.
But even here, where our own troops shot each other and countless other places where we need to pause and reflect on what went on then and since the poppy can be found. Different forms, different styles but all saying the same thing……remember them.
Life and other