100 years in the history of the Poppy

Poppies outside Lynton House on Bridge Hill. June 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

Poppies outside Lynton House on Bridge Hill. June 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

It is late in June, and the young men of our home countries are competing for victory over in France. There is fighting in the streets. In a few days’ time, a momentous event is about to change forever our relationship with Europe…

The year is 1916 and the battle of the Somme is about to begin. More than a million men will fall as casualties.

Is it just a figment of an overheated imagination, or is there something rather moving about the row of red Poppies along the wall of Lynton House opposite the entrance to St Peter’s Church in Bridge? How pretty they are, and yet how poignant. Each evening, in the sunset, they jostle at the pavement, in the breeze of passing traffic, as if waiting to cross the road for Evensong.

The Poppy has acquired a special meaning in the collective consciousness of the British: it symbolises the horror of war, courage in battle, blood, the wasted hopes of fine young men, devastation, and the respectful remorse of those for whom the fallen lost their lives. They didn’t give them, as the eulogies say; those lives were stolen. They rest in peace now, our missing braves, and thus the symbolism of the Poppy, ‘eternal sleep’, a connotation not born of the Flanders fields as some believe, but in the ancient myths of Greece and Rome.

There are many varieties of Poppy, but the one we most associate with remembrance of the dead of war is the scarlet Corn Poppy, which still grows today at this roadside in Bridge, and on farmland across Britain and the wider continent. In commercial fields of wheat, barley and beans the Poppy is a weed, unwanted; but we love it for its colour, its bright brave beauty in our countryside, and for its meaning. Our remembrance burns deep. Who could cut a Poppy down and not feel guilt?

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