BATTLEFIELD BLOOMS

FLORAL MEMENTOES OF GALLIPOLI

The Gallipoli Rose (Cistus salvifolius) was the Australian War Memorial’s first commemorative plant. It grew on the  bloody battlefields of  Gallipoli. The sight of the flowers  lifted the spirits of the Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), who  brought home the seeds.  Particularly hardy, it is frost and cold tolerant,  but also able to thrive in hot, dry conditions.  

Gallipoli Rose

Gallipoli Rose

Rosemary also grew wild on the slopes above Anzac Cove. In ancient times, infusions of  Rosemary  (Rosmarinus officinalis)  were thought to improve  memory;  thus the plant is  doubly suitable as a symbol of remembrance on  April 25; Anzac Day

LEST WE FORGET

The red corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is a single crimson poppy with a splash of black at its centre.  The poppies grew on the Somme in France, where the soil was not only tilled by cannon fire, but  disturbed by the digging of trenches and  thousands of war graves.  It is also said that they were fertilized by limestone from destroyed  farmhouses.  Poppies are worn  on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, in honour of  the fallen.

FlandersPoppies

Some years ago a French architect called Pascal Truffaut proposed the creation of a twelve mile ‘river of blood’ on the Somme; a bed of poppies 100 yards wide and extending the length of the 1916 trench lines. He envisaged that the  poppies would line either side of the rail line on which the Eurostar runs, and straddle the A1 auto-route. As far as I am aware the project has yet to come to fruition, but what  a stunning and poignant sight they would be in full bloom.

It was a particularly moving gesture from Truffaut, as for French soldiers it was actually cornflowers that  became symbolic.  Their blue flowers reflected the colour of French army uniforms. Appropriately, the genus of the cornflower  is known as centaury.  It is  a  reference to the mythical centaur which healed its wounds with sap from the plant after being gashed by Heracles.

 

Le Bleuet de France

Le Bleuet de France

Flowers also provided war-weary Londoners with hope and solace during the Second World. By New Year’s Day 1941, the death toll in the city had exceeded 13,000. Nature provided a touching memorial for those who died. In soil exposed to the light after homes were destroyed, wild flowers appeared; scarlet pimpernel, wild columbine and sorrel. There were also purple spires of rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium).  In a survey conducted in 2004, Londoners chose this wildflower as their favourite.

RENEWAL AND RECONCILIATION

Golden Australian acacias  (wattles) were the first plants to  flower after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945. The searing heat helped germinate the seeds, and subsequently the plants thrived in an atmosphere of high daylight and low competition. Services are held in Japan on Hiroshima day, and yellow ribbons are sent from Australia in the spirit of peace and reconciliation

Australian Acacias germinated amid the destruction of Hiroshima.

Australian Acacias germinated amid the destruction of Hiroshima.

 

Some years ago I visited the civil war cemeteries in the Deep South of America and was struck by the giant Bull Bay magnolias planted among the graves. The fresh, citrus fragrance of their plate sized blooms is a stark contrast to the stench of war. I have since planted one in my Blue Mountains garden.

Fragrant Bull Bay Magnolias grace Civil War Cemeteries.

Fragrant Bull Bay Magnolias grace Civil War Cemeteries.

Perhaps the most evocative memorial  trees in the United States are known as Witness Trees. They   were living at the time of the Civil War, and some still bear the scars of  battle.

At Burnside Bridge at Antietam Creek stands an ancient sycamore. The tree was  a mere sapling on September 17th 1862,  one of the bloodiest days in American History,  when Union and Confederate  armies suffered  a horrifying   23,000 casualties.

Inevitably, all the  Witness Trees will die, but  their seedlings are being cultivated and will  carry on  the memory of the fallen. In a similar way,  seedlings of Gallipoli’s Lone Pine were gathered and  grown as memorials around Australia . In 2008, two  large branches fell from the mature pine at the War Memorial in Canberra.  Fortunately the tree survived. A variety of  commemorative objects were made from the  branches, including pens. I treasure mine, and always use it  at book signings.

A little piece of a Lone Pine 'descendant'.

A little piece of a Lone Pine ‘descendant’.

When I attended the Remembrance Day service in  Canberra  several years ago I slipped  a posy of Sweet William inside the wreath laid by Prime Minister John Howard.  It was in memory of my great-uncle, William Singleton, who was at the Anzac Cove Landing, fought in the Battle of Lone Pine, and subsequently in France.   I hope he and his mates are sleeping peacefully.

Private Arthur Singleton; returned from Gallipoli and about to fight in France.

Private Arthur Singleton; returned from Gallipoli and about to fight in France.

I live in the Blue Mountains, in the village of Blackheath. It is  known as the rhododendron capital of Australia.   Just 100 metres from my home is Memorial Park.  The giant rhododendrons here were planted by local residents after WWI, in honour of the 77 young men from Blackheath  who volunteered for service. A thousand pounds was raised by villagers for the purchase of the plants.

 

 

Memorial Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dwarfed by the giant rhododendrons.

 

I love to read comments from readers.  Just fill in the box below. Remember you must scroll down and  complete the simple anti-spam sum before pressing SUBMIT.

UPDATE – IN THE COMMENTS BELOW NANCY MENTIONED A BEAUTIFUL WWI SONG;  Here is the YouTube link to: ‘The Green Fields of France‘. 

8 Comments
  1. I love that poem, and the flowers are beautiful. Have you ever heard the song, “The Green Fields of France” by the Dropkick Murphy’s? It is about WWI and is beautiful, intense and sad. It is one of my favorites. It is on youtube if you want to listen to it.

    Smiles and blessings, Nancy

  2. I had no idea of any of the above stories, but they made me think of an English reference.
    During and after the blitz of London, in many of the bombsights and ruined buildings people noticed the tiny pink and white stars of a saxifrage would colonise the area. It was called “London pride” Noël Coward wrote a delightful ditty about it . I just noticed Rod’s bottle of beer, also called London Pride, hopefully named after the ftiny starry flower!

    • Pauline

      Oh, I have heard of London Pride Annabelle, but not in that context. I’ll have to find a pic.And the Noel Coward song.

  3. Oh, the magnolia! We had one in the front yard of the house I grew up in. It was always a sign of summer when the flowers began to bloom. The spicy, almost citrus scent of it will always remind me of home. And to a little girl with a BIG imagination, the velvety leaves made wonderful houses for fairies. 🙂

    Thank you for this. The anthropologist in me is always interested in hearing stories from other places and learning how people remember their loved ones.

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