Chippenham's Knit and Natter group have been at it again. Like last year's Christmas display, their High Street poppies instantly became the talk of the town when they put them up on Monday night. Of course I had to photograph them for today's Remembrance Sunday, and I had several conversations with complete strangers doing the same. We all agreed how wonderful they are and a great help in our own Remembrance this year.
Restoration of the town's war memorial is complete, with a local firm paying for the re-gilding of the soldiers' names inscribed on the monument. Later today, two women from my WI will lay a wreath on behalf of Chippenham's four WIs. As our group is the youngest of the four, it's our first time to take part in the town's official ceremony.
It's not our only act of Remembrance, because Chippenham has a larger and more unusual memorial. Thirty three streets on the Pewsham estate are named after the WWI soldiers shown on the above monument. As we're called Pewsham Belles, we decided to have a walk around the streets where some of our members live now or resided previously. We then researched those soldiers names, and told their stories as we reached the appropriate street. Our soldiers were young, with ages ranging from 20 to 29; the mothers on our walk realised with shock they would have given their sons up to the war. It was a poignant moment.
Our stories told of ordinary, hard working men - a banker, a postman, a shopkeeper and young farmers, most of whom volunteered (and in many cases died) before conscription came into force in 1916. Some have no remains and so are commemorated on the Menin Gate and Thiepval; others are buried in cemeteries is France, Belgium, Iraq (then called Mesopotamia) and Jerusalem.
There was also an opportunity to tell the story of the formation of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; of the controversial decision not to bring the bodies home; and how the gardens of the thousands of WWI and WWII cemeteries are still tended with love today. WWI poetry written by Charlotte Mew and Vera Brittain formed the start and finish to our walk.
We no longer look at a list of names and tut over the waste of so many lives. We can see the people behind them.
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One of the great things about belonging to my WI is my friends there come forward with all kinds of useful snippets and offers of help whenever you say you're going to do something. Thanks to Sally, I've discovered the wonderful book Where Poppies Blow. It's an unusual and quite different account of WWI, in the form of its natural history.
Here are the stories of what the soldiers got up to when they weren't fighting, including the incredible story of them creating gardens in the trenches and shell holes. Soldiers grew food behind the lines to augment their supplies, which by the war's end was a substantial enterprise. Then there's the attempt of the British interred in Germany at the outbreak of the war to gain RHS affiliation for their garden society and show.
Once again gardening shows it is the answer to the world's ills.
It's also where I found the stories of how the poppy became the remembrance emblem; and the formation of [then] Empire War Graves Commission through the determination of one man to ensure the war dead didn't lie forgotten in their hastily dug graves.
This in turn answered my often thought question of why most soldiers were buried abroad rather than being brought back home. There were too many of them and the powers that be were keen to ensure that in death, all men were treated equally (only the rich could afford to bring their dead kinsmen home).
A highly recommended book.