More than five years ago, two sisters-in-law – Lynn and Margaret – began knitting 120 poppies to honour their fathers who died during the Second World War. Those poppies grew into a community movement that’s collected hordes of volunteers, crossed oceans and spawned the creation of hundreds of thousands of poppies seen in gardens, ceremonies and displays across the world to honour our soldiers.
Last week in Canberra, a garden sea of these beautiful handmade red poppies was planted on the lawns of the Australian War Memorial, on their final stop in their world travels.
There are 62,000 poppies in the garden, knitted or crocheted by loving hands, each poppy representing an Australian soldier who died in the First World War. The display is part of the commemorations of approaching centenary of the armistice, which marked the official end of the First World War. That was ‘the war to end all wars’, a concept that clearly didn’t catch on as well as it should have.
62,000 poppies, each made with love, respect and thanks. Each one is individual and comes with its own story, just as each life represented was a unique one. I spotted two poppies that looked identical, planted side by side—I wondered if they represented brothers, or twins, doubling someone’s loss.
Some of the poppies are a little travel-weary, having already appeared elsewhere, including a massive display at the Chelsea Flower Show in London or at other memorial services around the world including Fromelles in France.
It’s a remarkable sight, beautiful but very sobering, on display until 11 November. So many poppies, so many lives. It’s part of the commemorative events planned by the Australian War Memorial for the centenary of the Armistice, including ceremonies, displays and late opening nights. At night, it’s lit up and even more poignant, especially with the beautiful musical accompaniment in the background, put together by artist-in-residence Chris Latham.
Well done to the two women who started it all, Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight, who kicked off the original 5000 Poppies movement, who must be very proud. And also to the landscaper, Phillip Johnson, the volunteers, the knitters, the staff, and of course, to the 62,000 soldiers represented, and the many thousands more that followed.
There’s a couple more installations of these poppies around Canberra at the moment, including two at the airport, one in the International Arrivals area and one in the domestic arrivals areas. There’s also a display at Floriade at Commonwealth Park. Poppies erupting everywhere.
And an update – just days before Armistice Day, 270,000 of these handmade poppies were ‘planted’ in front of Parliament House. What a remarkable display they make.
I’ll leave you with some words from Margaret and Lynn from the 5000 Poppies blog, about the impact this project has had on them and on others:
“and my thoughts go to the many, many thousands of poppies that have arrived in our post office box and on my doorstep over the last five years … imbued with love and honour and respect for those who have served … living and dead. And I am reminded of the beautiful, sad woman who made poppies for Fed Square in honour of her son, an Afghanistan veteran, who had taken his own life just weeks before. Her heart was so broken and we cried together when we met at Fed Square. And then there was the beautiful elderly, stooped man in Fromelles who stood there with his wife sobbing with one of our beautiful poppies in his hand, because he could not understand how or why so many thousands of people would take the time create such a beautiful tribute to the fallen and he was remembering his comrades who had fallen in the Algerian War. “
Lest we forget.
Have you seen this display? Were you involved? I’d love to hear your thoughts.