Learning Not To Forget


Papaver rhoeas is a weed common to Europe and it appears where the earth has been recently disturbed. Papaver rhoeas , though, is one of those deceptively pretty weeds which blooms into ia red flower with tissue textured petals. To me, and probably you, Papaver rhoeas is a poppy.

"Disturbed" seems a very quaint description for the devastation to the terrain caused by the fighting on the Western Front in France during WWI. Just as they had in earlier wars in Europe, during the "war to end all wars", poppies flourished, creating a deceptive cloak for the hacked and rotten bodies that lay beneath.

The Canadian surgeon, John McCrae, who had served in France, created a tragically romantic image of the red flowers in his poem which became known as In Flanders Fields  — a poem which moved American Moina Belle Michael so much that she made an oath to wear a red poppy as a symbol of her remembrance of that horror. She dedicated her life to selling silk flowers to raise money for those who avoided death back home in the United States.

In a similar spirit, one Madame Guerin engaged in her own poppy tour of duty in the United States but in this case, to raise money for those in her native France. The ubiquity of the poppy led to it being the symbol of remembrance for the service of those affected not only by World War One but in subsequent wars, conflicts and peacekeeping missions.

Remembrance Day is one of those days which the public feel that students should know about. Because of this, and because of the high public interest in what students should be taught in history classes, In Australia, Remembrance Day features in every state curriculum — and no doubt will be covered in the proposed Australian Curriculum.

This is not objectionable, in my opinion, but in a curriculum which is already crowded it is sometimes difficult for teachers to teach it in a meaningful way — despite the fact that there are many resources on the history of Remembrance Day.

In creating the website 1000 Poppies, the History Teachers’ Association of Victoria and the Shrine of Remembrance — along with the help of a network of people I encountered through social media — hope to fill this missing link.

The project aims to create a space where students from around the world can share stories and experiences, linking the local and the global in an online environment. They can create their own response to the service and sacrifice of veterans and those affected by war — and express their hopes for lasting peace. Students, and the public, will be able to upload their act of commemoration not just on Remembrance Day but any day of the year. With the global nature of the project, it is hoped that students’ cross cultural understandings will enhanced as they engage with peers across the globe to create a continuously evolving online memorial.

Richard Flanagan recently pointed out the fleeting transience of the act of remembrance. It is easy to forget. It is easy to forget those issues which are more difficult — such as the reasons why countries get involved in conflicts.

From time to time, on days such as today, the fallow ground of our minds does need to be disturbed, to have a particular moment to remember, to borrow from Eliot, to "[stir the]dull roots with spring rain", even though it is not April in the southern hemisphere, where that more hallowed of day of remembrance rests in Australian memory.

Lest we forget.

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Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.