The first poppy found in war diary
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Monday 09 November 2009
Some fragile petals recovered from the diary of a First World War soldier are thought to be the oldest Remembrance poppies in Britain.
Dave Mason made the remarkable discovery as he was browsing through the diaries of his great uncle Len Smith, a sapper in the Royal Engineers, finding the delicate flowers pressed into the pages alongside the words “Actual Flanders poppies from ‘no man’s land’ 1915.”
The soldier, who would undergo risky surveillance missions behind enemy lines to sketch their movements, is thought to have plucked the poppies from No Man’s Land in Flanders Field during one of these operations 94 years ago.
Although the petals have dried out and become brittle they have preserved well, retaining their shape and vibrant red colour.
Mr Mason, 63, of Woodford Green, Essex, said: ''Len was a really gentle guy and this was epitomised in his love of flowers, which I think he collected as light relief from the war which was raging around him.
“The poppies were in kept in near-perfect condition and had kept their bright red colour because they were preserved between the pages. It's incredible really.”
The soldier kept a comprehensive diary of his experiences of trench warfare, including bloody battles at Vimy Ridge and Loos, and his notes, sketches and diary extracts have now been compiled and published under the title ‘Drawing Fire.’
Recalling a shelling at Vermelles, north France, he wrote: ''There were not any great doings at this part of the line - with much caution one could even peep over the top and it was lovely to see groups of red poppies among the infrequent patches of grass.
“Considering the numerous shell holes they were very numerous and made a very brave display – I know they thrilled me intently.”
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