Nature in the War

By Judith Phillips

An interesting entry in The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War, edited by Peter Englund, comes from the diary of Florence Farnborough, a young English nurse with the Russian army.  In June 1917, serving on the Voloschyna front, Florence describes the view from a hill overlooking ruined and deserted villages in the valleys below with the enemy trenches clearly visible. ‘There are scarlet patches of poppies in the fields around, marguerites too and a few cornflowers.’  I hadn’t realised that the poppy, when it was used as a symbol after the war, would resonate with more than the Western Front.  Her appreciation of the flowers reminded me of another book group recommendation.

One of the unexpected pleasures of the book group recommendations was ‘Where the Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature and the Great War’ by John Lewis-Stempel.  The author is keen countryman and his book deals with all manner of ‘nature’ (including some of the less nice aspects!) that soldiers had to deal with on the Western Front.  Each chapter ended with a list of soldier-authors (mainly poets) whose work covered the same natural theme of the chapter.  So I was very interested to read about a new exhibition guest-curated by John Lewis-Stempel. 

‘Where Poppies Blow’ is on at the Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth, Cumbria.  The exhibition includes works by Edward Thomas and the brothers Paul and John Nash.  The current phase of the exhibition runs until 8th July when some changes will be made and the second phase will run from 11th July to 28th October.  If you have been or go in the next few weeks, we’d love to hear from you.

Would you be interested if we arranged a trip to the exhibition?  Please let me know and we’ll see what we can do.