November in the UK means poppies. From lapel pins that dawn the coats of tube riders to the elaborate display that frames the Tower of London, poppies can be spotted all over as Remembrance Day draws near.
Inspired by the 1915 poem by brigade doctor, John McCrae, titled ‘In Flanders Fields,’ the flower has been used to commemorate those who have given their lives in war since 1921. Three short stanzas evoke a sense of World War I:
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.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
2018 is unique as it marks the hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day. In addition to numerous displays of poppies, a Bristol exhibition and Christie’s auction are two events commemorating the Armistice this year.
First, Bristol-based artist, Matthew Healey seeks to honour and represent soldiers maimed during the first world war in his exhibition ‘Broken Faces’. Reconstructive surgery was advancing at the time as facial injuries and disfigurement spiked during the war. Many soldiers opted into the risky process in the hopes for a more normal post-war life.
Healey’s paintings and sculptures show the before and after images of a number of men which he studied from photographs taken of both Allie and German soldiers. ‘[T]he dead are often remembered; the survivors are often not,’ said Healy of his show which he has used to remember those who lived on after the peace treaty. The portraits are hauntingly beautiful and put viewers face to face with the reality many men lived in after the war was long over.
Another second event marking the anniversary of the war will take place at Christie’s on December 12th with the sale of a first-hand account of the Armistice negotiations. The typescript documents, handwritten letters, and original ephemera of Captain J.P.R. Marriott (1879-1938) is expected to sale for £10,000-15,000 in the Valuable Books and Manuscripts auction.
Negotiations for the Armistice began on November 8th 1918 in the Forest of Compiègne, approximately 60 km north of Paris. After only three days, Marshal Foch of France, Admiral Wemyss of England and four German delegates signed the document to end the ‘war to end all wars’ at exactly 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Marriott, one of four Brits present for the negotiations, was only 38 when he recorded the experience.
As the year winds down, so will such events, but 2018’s legacy will certainly be one of remembrance.