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Lest we forget!

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Lest we forget!

This year marks the centenary for the ending of World War 1. We contacted Pam McFadden of the Talana Museum, in Dundee, to understand how the Poppy became the symbol of remembrance. 

‘Scarlet poppies  (popayer rhoeas) grow naturally in disturbed earth throughout Europe. The seed can lay dormant for many years but will bloom in disturbed soil. Towards the end of 1914 red poppies began to bloom in the churned uplands of western France and Flanders.

Once the war was over and the continuous movement of men, machines and animals had come to an end the poppy was one of the few plants to grow on the barren and disturbed lands of the western front. In 1917 and again after the war the area was a blaze of scarlet with patches of yellow charlock and white chamomile.

The significance of the poppy was highlighted in John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ and came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by the soldiers and became a symbol of lasting memorial to those who had died in the war and in all later conflicts.

The red poppy became the universal symbol of the memory of the fallen soldiers, except in France.

In France, the flower which remembers fallen soldiers is the blue cornflower. Until the poppy was adopted after the war, British veterans of 1914-1915 wore the cornflower in remembrance of the high losses in the autumn of 1914 by both armies and many continued to do so for the rest of their lives instead of the red poppy. The French custom goes back to much older times than the Great War and although not a formal revival during the war, it did become much more widespread and can still be seen at military remembrance events. Though it is more usual to wear a natural flower, artificial ones do exist so that they be used at times where the flower is not available, as the flowering season is a very short season.

Why the blue cornflower?

The French army’s campaign season usually began in late summer when the cornflower was commonly seen in the fields. At many of the war cemeteries in France, the gardeners will cultivate a bed of cornflowers so that French visitors may pick and wear the flower as they walk around.  The artificial cornflower is known as the “Bleuet de France”

Visit Talana Museum to learn more about South Africa’s involvement in World War 1, how the War began and ended.

Lori Voss

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