On Sunday my mother, sister and I attended the very moving Choral Evensong of St Nicholas at St George’s Cathedral, Perth. The service commemorated Western Australia’s “Boy Soldiers” of the First World War. 1000s of hand made poppies from various Western Australian community groups lined the entrance, aisle and Altar of the Cathedral.
Six boys who gave their lives in the Great War were honoured by the laying of wreaths at the base of the Villers-Bretonneux Cross of which St George’s Cathedral is the custodian.
Albert Anderson – Aged 16, Edward Giles – Aged 17, Frank Grainger – Aged 17, Hughie O”Donnell – Aged 16, Horace Poole – Aged 17 and Reginald Tutton – aged 17.
The following information is from the service booklet:-
Long known as the corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas, because it flourishes as a weed in grain field, the Flanders poppy as it is now usually called, grew profusely in the trenches and crates of European war zones. Artillery shells and shrapnel stirred up the earth and exposed the seeds to the light they need to germinate.
This same poppy also flowers in Turkey in early spring – as it did in April 1915 when the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli. According to Australia’s official war historian Charles Bean, a valley south of ANZAC beach got its name Poppy Valley “From the field of brilliant red poppies near it’s mouth”.
In the years immediately following the Great War, governments and the whole of society, had not accepted the responsibility for those incapacitated and bereft as a result of war. In Britain, unemployment accentuated the problem. Earl Haig, the British Commander-in-Chief, undertook the task of organising the British Legion as a means of coping with the problems of hundreds and thousands of men who had served under him in battle.
An American woman. Moina Michael, inspired by In Flanders Field, John McCrae’s poem depicting the poppies of the battlefields of the Western Front, began selling artificial poppies in aid if ex-servicemen, first in the United States and then in France.
In 1921, a group of widows of French ex-servicemen called on him at the British Legion Headquarters. They brought with them from France some poppies they had made, and suggested that they might be sold as a means of raising money to aid the distressed among those who were incapacitated as a result of the war. The Commander-in-Chief adopted the idea. The first red poppies to come to Australia, in 1921, were made in France.
…The 5000 Poppies project will be “planting” a field of more than 60,000 poppies in Federation Square Melbourne on ANZAC Day 2015 as a stunning visual tribute to Australian servicemen and women for more than a century of service in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
People from all over Australia are making knitted, crocheted and felted poppies. The cause has been taken up by numerous groups including Country Women’s Association, Spotlight Stores, local councils, libraries, retirement homes and Western Australian Fibre and Textile Association
The Returned and Service League WA Branch (RSL-WA) saw an opportunity to bring the projects together so that all poppies from WA would go to Albany for the Centenary in November 2014. These poppies were displayed in the CBD and later taken to the City of Wanneroo’s Art Gallery for display on Armistice Day. They will then go to Melbourne’ Federation Square for display on ANZAC Day 2015 and will be returned to Perth for display here at St George’s Cathedral during Remembrancetide 2015.
“An attack”, says the Official Historian, “that brought great fame to the Australian Infantry. Before sunrise this cold clean stroke had relieved the Allies from the anxious situation existing at sunset. The swiftness and finality of the decision which it imposed and the success obtained here caused it to be cited as the most impressive operation of its kind on the “Western Front”. It is well known that this counter-attack effectively halted any further westerly advance of the enemy”.
The significance of the this event to Western Australia is that of the many Australians who fought and gave their lives in this action were Western Australians of the 51st Battalion. This Battle effectively averted the enemy advance on Amiens and Paris, and was instrumental in turning the tide of the War and bringing about the cessation of hostilities seven months later.
St George’s Cathedral is the custodian of the Viller-Bretonneux Cross, borne to the Altar this evening, which is made on the battlefield and erected to honour those who died. The Cross was originally sited where the Battalion staged an outstanding counter-attack with great success on the 24-25 April 2018, in the village of Villers-Bretonneux, at a cost of 365 casualties. It was brought to Australia to St Anne’s in North Ryde NSW in 1933 and ultimately to Western Australia in 1956…