Poppies poem anniversary written 3 May 1915

 

 

Somme poppies, Thiepval area, France taken on my first trenches tour,  1992 (Copyright: Mark Norris)

Somme poppies, Thiepval area, France taken on my first trenches tour, 1992 (Copyright: Mark Norris, WWZG, Newquay Zoo)

 

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row …”

Today is the 100th anniversary of the writing on 3rd May 1915 of the Poppies poem, In Flanders Fields, by Canadian Army doctor John McCrae.

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.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

It was written by McCrae to commemorate his Canadian friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer who had died the day before on 2 May 1915 during the Second Battle Of Ypres. McCrae had presided over the burial and noticed poppies around the graves.

http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1592956/HELMER,%20ALEXIS%20HANNUM

The poem was said to have been written in the back of an ambulance the next day 3rd May 1915 but not published anonymously until 8th December 1915 in Punch magazine. McCrae himself died of pneumonia in January 1918.

I visited  the very muddy flooded Essex Farm casualty clearing station where McCrae worked  and took my picture of Thiepval Somme poppies the same wet, overcast day in 1992. You can see pictures on Alan Jennings’ WW1 Battlefields Blog

Tower Poppies

Tower Poppies, London WW1 Centenary, November 2014 (Image: Mark Norris, WWZG collection)

The poem’s final verse (below) caused some unease and discussion when it was read recently at a local Roll of Honour rededication ceremony. However I think it sits well with the WW1 centenary ethos of keeping ‘faith’ with the memory of all “the Dead”  of all nations, in remembering the fallen WW1 casualties and their generation.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

You can read more about John McCrae and Alexis Helmer who inspired the Poppies poem at :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Flanders_Fields

http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/john-mccrae-in-flanders-fields.htm

The recent Gallipoli anniversary in April 2015 also saw CWGC commemoration of the early death from disease on active service  of poet Rupert Brooke and his sonnet The Soldier : “If I Should Die …”

Wild Memorial Flowers

The Poppy went on to become a powerful symbol of remembrance, symbolic of blood yet at odds with the beautiful spread of wildflowers on disturbed farmland torn up and disfigured by the trenches. The Tower Poppies display in Autumn 2014  showed that its symbolic power en masse has not faded with the years but grown with the centenary and with fresh memories of recent conflict.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Tower Poppies, Autumn 2014. (Image: Mark Norris, WWZG)

 

In France, according to RBGE archivist Leonie Paterson, the equivalent remembrance flower is the Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) or “Les Bleuets”, based on the sky blue uniform adopted during WW1 by the French troops. Leonie has been studying many of the flowers dedicated to RBGE staff killed in WW1 on her fascinating blog posts. A WW1 centenary wildflower and poppy lawn were sown at RBGE Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh in 2014.

I have planted some Cornflowers, a source of edible petals for some of our animals, in our World War Zoo Gardens allotment plot at Newquay Zoo.

Many BIAZA zoos in the UK including Newquay Zoo have planted wildflower areas in 2015 as part of the BIAZA Grab That Gap  wildflower initiative with Flora Locale to encourage wildlife and survey them as part of  a BIAZA Bioblitz this summer.

French prisoners of war in a German postcard, wearing the old early French WW1 uniform (almost bright Waterloo colours) before it became sky blue, like the cornflower - "les bleuets"  (Image Source: Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens collection)

French prisoners of war in a German postcard, wearing the old early French WW1 uniform (almost bright Waterloo colours) before it became sky blue, like the cornflower – “les bleuets” (Image Source: Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens collection)

Remember John McCrae, Alexis Helmer and the many other casualties of all nations, whenever you next see a wild poppy blowing in the wind, wherever it is, in a zoo or in a field or garden  …

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.

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One Response to “Poppies poem anniversary written 3 May 1915”

  1. The Wartime Garden in Bloom 2015 | Worldwarzoogardener1939's Blog Says:

    […] https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/poppies-poem-anniversary-written-3-may-1915… […]

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