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World War 1 began on July 28, 1914 and lasted until November 11, 1918. In total, 30 countries were involved in the conflict. By the end of WW1, over 9 million soldiers had been killed, and another 21 million wounded. Over a million soldiers were killed in the infamous Battle of the Somme alone, including about 30,000 in just one day. For Australia, the First World War remains the costliest conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.
The poppy was one of the first flowers to bloom on the battlefields of Flanders during World War 1. Their bright red colour symbolised the blood shed during the horrific conflict, but also the hope of new life, and the poppy became the symbol of Remembrance Day. The Remembrance Poppy has been used as a symbol since 1920.
This year, I was privileged to have visited our Nation’s Capital the same week as the centenary celebrations. To witness the splendour of thousands of knitted and crotched bright red poppies, created as part of the Remembrance Day tributes, was both moving and awe-inspiring.
The idea of the knitted poppies began in 2013 as a small personal tribute by two Australian women to honour fathers who both fought in World War II. It has since become an international tribute of respect and remembrance, culminating in the splendour of the display at the War Memorial and Parliament House in Canberra in 2018.
I have been blessed never to have been directly caught up in conflict. Both my parents remembered WW2; my Father was an evacuee and my Mother recalled that she did not know what a banana was until she was almost into her teens. Both told storied of huddling in shelters while the planes dropped bombs overhead, never knowing whether the next bomb would ‘have their number on it’.
None of my children have ever starved or gone without. Looking at the world today, we are the lucky ones.
Some say that wearing the poppy for long past conflicts is irrelevant. But if we do not learn from history, if we do not revere those that gave so much to protect our freedom, if we do not thank which ever Deity we respect for our safety every day, then the millions lost in the early part of the last century died for nothing. And I, for one, consider that an unforgivable tragedy.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.