Thursday 24 February 2022. The day marked a goal for me. A group outing had been organised to visit the Poppy Factory in Richmond by Age UK. I wasn’t sure until the last moment whether I could get myself there under my own steam. In the end my long standing cleaner/gardener/chauffeuse drove me right to the door and was waiting for me at the end of the tour which lasted over one and a half hours. I have lived in Richmond for over thirty years, have passed by the building continuously and yet never taken the tour. Yes, it was a day to remember in more ways than one.
I have written more than once about my poppy scarves, so I had to dig deep to find yet another in my treasure trove of silken beauties. My photo shows this fine chiffon square draped over a photo frame showing my late husband aged 19 in his Royal Air Force uniform. If you look closely, you will see the wings in the photo corner. This will tie in with the photo taken of me by our group organiser just before I left the factory. I am standing by the huge wreath dedicated to the RAF.
My husband came through his National Service unscathed. It was not so for another nineteen year old in my family, Daniel Robertson, my father’s elder brother who lost his life on the Flanders battlefield. I have a copy of his last unfinished letter in copperplate handwriting to my grandmother written before he went over the top of his trench into battle during the First World War. It is significant that on this very day when I am going to remember him, another conflict of war is breaking in the Ukraine. Two weeks ago I was writing about the IOC President’s words from the last Winter Olympics…..Give Peace a chance. Alas…..
After WW1 we started remembering the fallen by wearing a silk poppy, made in France. This was started by a French woman to give employment to widows. An American woman sold the poppies for a voluntary donation. A Canadian military surgeon wrote the heart felt poem ‘In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row……” and exactly one hundred years ago Major George Howson had the vision of providing employment for war veterans by opening a poppy-making factory in England. These four people played an important part in our remembrance of the war dead and injured, the creation of the British Legion and the Poppy Factory. In England from a modest start, an old brewery was purchased by the river in Richmond and converted into a factory and more land was bought to build housing for the veteran employees and their families. The wreaths are still made today in the same factory by the disabled, including the Queen’s, that of Prince Charles and the various armed forces, etc. I was able to make my own simple poppy with its green leaf, red bloom and black centre. The red symbolises the blood of the fallen, the black centre mourning and the green leaf the grass and crops which grow later on battlefields. We were encouraged to make our poppies on the simple wooden stand using only one hand to emulate what it must be like being handicapped.
I felt I was cheating a bit with my scarf today. The poppies are golden on a red background. More like the Californian strain or the Welsh yellow wood poppy. Of course we also have the blue Himalayan, purple, white and even black poppies as well as the familiar red. Did you know you can support the animals lost in war by wearing a purple poppy? There were so many horses lost in the 14-18 war and of course dogs in latter day conflict. The white poppy is promoted by a charity Peace Pledge Union, encouraging peace but remembering those lost in war, and the black poppy recognises the contribution of black, African and Caribbean communities. Strangely, despite the first silk poppies being made by Mme. Guerin, Remembrance Day in France is commemorated with a blue cornflower, Bleuet de France. My poppy was the traditional scarlet.
There was plenty time to chat to other visitors, listen to a talk, watch a film, study the exhibits, watch a wreath being assembled by hand and then…..yum, yum…..enjoy a cake, baked on the premises and a coffee served in a china mug, both decorated with red poppies! I had a lovely surprise to find my hairdresser also a visitor. Nice company and another goal set. A post Covid, post injury haircut!!
A day to remember. I have already chosen my scarf for next week’s personal memory of Ukraine. I know the beginning….I have no idea how it will end. The scarf is flimsy and fragile.
Busy Bee, Scarf Face!
Series 2, Blog 86.