Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

REVIEW: Poppyganda

004Matthew W. Leonard, Poppyganda:  The Historical and Social Impact of a Flower, London: Uniform Press, 2015.

This attractively produced small book is another attempt to tell the story of the poppy (Papaver rhoeas) as a symbol of remembrance, or perhaps simply to cash in on events marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The author is ‘a modern conflict archaeologist’, which, I think, means he excavates twentieth-century battle-fields.  Hence there is a lot (approximately one third of the book) about the First World War as the first ‘industrial war’ in which the production and supply chains of ammunition, etc., enabled conflict to be continued beyond the short decisive battles of previous wars.  This scene-setting is thought-provoking but could have been greatly curtailed to allow more space to be devoted to poppies.

When the author eventually gets around to the flower he has very little that is original to say.  He repeats the familiar story of John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields poem, which inspired Moina Michael in the U.S.A. to produce the first remembrance poppies which in turn inspired Anna Guérin to produce poppies for sale in support of French war-widows.  Here he relies heavily on N.J. Saunders’ book The Poppy, reviewed elsewhere on this website.  (Of the 15 notes to one chapter 14 refer to this work).  Rather than repeat this it might have been better to tell us more about the fate of the poppy symbol between the First and Second World Wars: would it have continued in use if there had been no WW2, or would it have gently faded away?

However, there are some interesting and original observations, about  British and German war memorials (the former covered many acres with white tombstones, the latter preferred memorial groves of trees), the exploitation of the poppy motif by shops along the popular tourist battle-field routes, and the symbol’s possible future.

Unlike Saunders’ book where the images are poor, Leonard provides a good range of well reproduced pictures, even if some, such as those of the destruction of Coventry Cathedral and Hamburg, seem to add little to his narrative.

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