Poppies and bluets
November is the time when we honour those who died in the First World War which came to an end at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.
Back at the beginning of July centenary commemoration services were held at Westminster Abbey and at Thiepval in France for those who lost their lives in the battle of the Somme. One of those was Lance Corporal Arthur Bernard English from Eastmoor, Barton Bendish who served in the 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment, died on September 15th and is remembered with honour on Thiepval memorial. Horrifyingly his name is but one of 72,000 inscribed on the memorial; and Thiepval is just one of many. The televised coverage was very moving and also educational. I wasn’t previously aware that the French equivalent of our poppy is the Bleuet de France, the blue cornflower which appeared alongside red poppies in the fields devastated by the thousands of shells which fell along the Western Front. Both flowers were adopted as symbols of remembrance after WW1. Following the 1916 battles warm weather the following spring brought to life the seeds of many wildflowers scattered across the desolate landscape. In fact the seeds of both poppies and cornflowers will lay dormant in the ground for many years to resolutely reappear whenever the earth is freshly disturbed.
Suzanne Lenhardt, a head nurse tending the wounded, lost her own husband, a serving officer, in 1915. She organized workshops making the bleuets from tissue paper as occupational therapy for the wounded soldiers in her care. These badges were sold to the public and the money raised provided the men with a small income. This continued for many years after the war ended although the sale of bleuets in France on Remembrance Day was only officially recognised in 1935. The idea of making poppies a symbol of remembrance was first adopted by American academic Moina Michael who introduced it to Britain in 1918. In 1921 the Royal British Legion ordered nine million poppies made by disabled ex-servicemen and sold them on November 11th. They sold out almost immediately and the tradition continues until this day. In 1922 the poppy factory was established in Richmond, London and a work force, most of whom are disabled, produce 36 million poppies, 5 million poppy petals, 900,000 crosses and 100,000 wreaths each year. When this tradition first began there weren’t enough left over for Scotland so Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory was established in Edinburgh and now produces 5 million poppies and 12,000 wreaths annually made by ex-servicemen, many of them registered disabled. Apparently Scottish poppies differ from ours as they do not include a leaf. Dr John Macrae’s famous poem ‘In Flander’s Field’s’ was the inspiration behind the choice of these flowers in remembrance.
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
Poppies and bluets