Monday, May 15, 2006

“The poppies show that we remember”



This is a photograph taken inside Bayeux Cathedral, Calvados, France.

The Memorial Plaque commemorates the Fallen of the 56th Infantry Brigade, British Liberation Army who lost their lives in North West Europe between June 1944 and May 1945.


[Photograph by Joseph Ritson]

(For further information see comments below)

7 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Memorial Plaque inside Bayeux Cathedral

The Memorial Plaque shown in the photograph is on an inside wall near the entrance to Bayeux Cathedral. It reads as follows:

“56th Infantry Brigade, British Liberation Army

To the memory of all ranks of 56th Infantry Brigade who died in the campaign for the Liberation of North West Europe June 1944 - May 1945. Erected by their Comrades.

We Shall Remember”

The poppy wreaths

The poppy wreath and the poppy crosses below the Memorial were placed there by former Veterans of the 56th Infantry Brigade. Just after taking this photograph, two retired French ladies who were visiting the Cathedral and probably realising that I was British, asked if I could speak French.

When I said that I could speak French these two ladies, who were in fact Parisiennes holidaying in Normandy, asked me why the British and Canadians used poppy wreaths to commemorate our War Dead. I explained that the poppy was the symbol of the Royal British Legion. I added that its use originated in the trenches of the Western Front in the First World War, particularly after the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by Dr John McCrae had been published in 1915 (“ In Flanders Fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses row on row….” I also said that the poppies show that we remember.

The two Parisiennes had previously visited some of the Allied War Cemeteries and they seen the poppy wreaths there as well. A French person would not normally see poppies in a civilian cemetery, and it had seemed unusual to them that poppies were used so widely in the British and Canadian cemeteries.

Some views about the Remembrance poppy

I had not previously realised how unusual the use of the poppy wreath to commemorate the War Dead might seem to a Continental eye. No doubt this is because being British I have seen poppy wreaths and buttonholes from a young age. When I have visited War cemeteries in France, Belgium or the Netherlands, seeing poppy wreaths is something I would expect.

These two French ladies went on to tell me about what they remembered about the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, which was a time of great rejoicing for them. Hopefully, I was able to give them an idea into why the British and Canadians still use the poppy wreath to commemorate the War Dead.

Perhaps others would like to add their own comments as to what the poppy means to them. My relatives who had been in the Forces in either WW1 or WW2 would never wear any medals they had been awarded. But, these relatives always wore a poppy at Remembrance time and stressed it was important to remember. They encouraged younger family members, such as myself, to also wear poppies and remember.

Monday, 15 May, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Joseph - we are being all formal now !
The 56th Inf Bde was a part of the 49th West Riding Division which had a tough time of it just after landing when they bumped into the 12SS panzer Div and another panzer div. In fact it was a bit of a slaughter.
As in the june/july days, the div consisted of the 70 bde - 146th Bde and the 147th Bde - all three took a hammering and so the 56th were "grafted on" on the 20th August '44, this consisted of 2nd batt - Sth Wales Borderers - 2nd Batt Gloucesters - and 2nd Batt essex.
Now this looks like a scratch outfit as they joined the West Riding Div !
The 70th with the two Batts of DLI had a very hard time at Verney where most of the battalions were wiped out including my cousin in 10th DLI - the third Batt was the Tyne Scots.
The 147th Bde had an equally hard time in the same area but unfortunately the 6th Duke of Wellingtons were badly led and
suffered greatly - most of the leadership were sent home and the
battalion was replaced by the Leicestershires. The other two batts were the Royal Scots and the 7th batt Dukes !
The 146th did not escape and horrendous casualties were taken by the Lincolns - Hallamshires and Koyli's.
The Division aquitted themselves well after the first few weeks and finished up in Germany, but without their leader Maj.Gen "Bubbles" Barker who was transferred to Burma

Tuesday, 16 May, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Joseph -
slight correction needed - the 49th Div with 56th bde and the others finished their war at Utrecht Holland on the 8th May '45
They were known as Monty's Left Flank and the Polar bears after their two years stint in Iceland at the beginning of the war.
"Bubbles'Barker had already left for the Far East in the November of 1944.
As noted - the 56th Bde. replaced the 70th bde which was disbanded after the slaughter at Verney.

Tuesday, 16 May, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

The real reason for the poppy being the emblem of rememberance is that to the soldiers in the Flanders trenches it appeared to be almost miraculous.

The Flanders poppy (Papaver rhoeas - known also as the corn poppy) is a Mediterranean flower living in a bio-symbiotic relationship with corn and other ploughed cereal plants, an association dating back to neolithic times. It is a Mediterranean plant with a now widely spread habitat, but particularly so in Belgium.

Each poppy produces up to 17,000 seeds but ploughing buries them deeply. The poppy has adapted to this and the seeds lie dormant until the ground is re-ploughed for corn seeding. They have adapted so well to this that poppy seeds can lie dormant for eighty years or more, and it is now believed possibly for hundreds of years. Poppy seeds have a type of secondary dormancy called "photo-dormancy" and require light to germinate. The seeds lie dormant in the soil biding their time until they are ploughed up and sunlight appears. Then a pigment called phytochrome intercepts red light rays and begins a cascade of events that leads to the poppy's germination and sudden burst into bloom.

In Flanders the poppy had not been seen for years before WW1 but with shelling and trench digging they 'miraculously' re-appeared. They were first noticed around the temporary graves, the grave mounds appeared smothered in poppies. Hence the observed scene:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.


No-mans-land too had poppies, but the shelling was too constant for them. However, the first spring and early summer in 1919, after the guns had fallen silent, the trenches were found to be covered in poppies, whole blankets of them draping the parapets. It seemed natures way of remembering and honouring the fallen youth.

It is for this reason, more than for the poem, that the poppy is the emblem to the fallen dead. This behaviour of the poppy, incidentally, was first noticed after the Battle of Waterloo, again in Belgium. Making the poppy the symbol for all the dead of all wars.

Tuesday, 16 May, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

I was about to say the same thing Peter, probably not in so many words but you are correct.
A field that has been dormant for as long as we can remember had a pipe line put through it, the following year the whole area of the pipe excavation was covered in poppies. Charlie the chap I walk my dog with, said it had been a cornfield during the war years but then they had put horses on it right up to last year.
My mother always said the poppy was the blood of those soldiers killed in the war and always made us wear our poppies with pride.
I must admit I got very uptight when a local pacifist group wanted us all to wear white poppies. I am afraid I made my feelings known when they tried to sell me one. The funny thing was when I had said my piece the people listening clapped so it was not only me.

Tuesday, 16 May, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Frank -
the fruit cakes - like the poor are always with us - the poppy was known to us as children as the blood of the fallen, and that it was held to be sacrosanct.
My cousin Charlie Mc Cann of the DLI in 70 th bde, came to see my Mother for a few days prior to D Day and mended a fence which had fallen. As he finished he said - " when you look at that fence - think of me"
- in a premonition of his death, at Raurey - not Verney, where the whole battalion marched through in line abreast with fixed bayonets in a suicidal formation where the 12SS Panzer Div and the Panzer Leher awaited them.
When Mother finally moved out of the big house - she took a portion of the fence with her !

Tuesday, 16 May, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Dear all,

Thanks for the insights and extra information about the poppy and Remembrance. I have heard about some people using the 'white poppy' in the national press, but I've never seen any for sale where I live in Cumbria.

The poppy was obviously a good choice for Remembrance, particularly at the end of the Great War. It seems to me red is the right colour, and for the reasons you all mention in this forum. And thanks for giving the Latin name of the poppy, Peter.

Tom, I've just looked up the details of your cousin Charlie on the CWGC website, and I do know the St Manvieu Cemetery, Cheux where he is buried. In fact, one of the accounts I posted to the "People's War" site was largely about a young German soldier who I had heard about (Otto Bügener) and I had researched while I was in Normandy (See Article ID: A3938187). He is buried in the same cemetery as your cousin Charlie, although in different plots. Seeing the Allied and Axis headstones in the same place it is plain to see why there should be no more World Wars.


Another curious thing I've noticed is that Otto and your cousin Charlie died on the same day (27 June 1944). Evidently they died in the same battle: but on the opposite sides. The German graves are tended in exactly the same way as the Allied graves at this cemetery. However, I seem to remember that while some of the the Allied graves had a poppy wreath or cross, on the German graves there were one or two small bunches of carnations.

My Aunty Mary Ritson (married to my Dad'd brother) had two of her own brothers killed in Normandy. The youngest of these, Private Joseph Casson DLI, also "died of wounds" on 27 June 1944. However Joseph was in the 9th Battalion DLI, which was a different Bn to your cousin Charlie, Tom. So, they probably did not know each other. Joseph is also buried in a different place: Ryes War Cemetery near Bayeux. I think he was possibly wounded in the area near Cheux and died in the Field Hospital.

Wearing the poppy shows we remember family and friends who died in wars.

Tuesday, 16 May, 2006  

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