FLORAL MEMENTOES OF WAR
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.
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.
Poppies are also used to form remembrance wreaths. The one pictured below is on the grave of Laurence Binyon, author of Fall the Fallen. The poem’s moving lines (from the 4th verse) are spoken at commemorative services, and often appear on war memorials. Binyon is buried in the English village of Aldworth.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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. The trees produce a glorious springtime display of ‘battlefield blooms’.
Leading up from the park are The Gallipoli Steps.
My sincere thanks to Ann Roberts for the following, beautiful photo;
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UPDATE – IN THE COMMENTS BELOW NANCY MENTIONED A BEAUTIFUL WWI SONG; Here is the YouTube link to: ‘The Green Fields of France‘.