“There’s Rosemary, That’s For Remembrance.”
Hamlet – Shakespeare
This year a unique event will be taking place across Great Britain, Europe and much of the rest of the world. On Sunday November 11th at 11am we shall fall silent across the nations, in churches and cities, in houses and gardens, in shopping malls and raucous playgrounds, and at The Cenotaph. For two minutes we shall not speak, but we shall remember, and honour the fallen. This weekend we hold Remembrance Sunday services and we also celebrate the Armistice that came into place at 11am on November 11th exactly 100 years ago.
Sadness, anger at the futility of war combine with honour and thanks to those who fell in the war to end all wars and all those fallen in defence of our country since then.
The country has risen to the challenge of remembering: our villages, towns and cities are clad with poppies and floral decorations to commemorate this momentous occasion. Schools have taken the opportunity to educate our young about the wars, knitters have taken to their needles in their thousands to make poppies to line our streets, houses, village halls and churches. Communities everywhere have come to together to devise floral tributes for remembrance, celebration and hope for future peace.
Here in the Great Church at Badminton we have used five symbolic plants to decorate:
The traditional red Poppy which was popularized by Lieutenant John McCrae’s poem “In Flander’s Fields.” (I wrote about this last year.) There is a curious poignancy that The British Legion Factory is based at Preston Hall in Kent where for hundreds of years the Culpeper family resided, of which it is likely that our most famous herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, was a junior member.
The Laurel leaves have been used throughout history, but particularly by the Romans, to make wreaths to celebrate Victory both in War and sport.
The green oak, the Quercus Ilex or Holm Oak, originally a Mediterranean tree which is ubiquitous in Britain is also included as it too has been traditionally used in the same way as the Laurel by the Greeks. There is an Italian legend that Jesus Christ loved this tree because it was the only one to understand the need to scarify itself to contribute to the Redemption.
Rosemary has traditionally been thrown into graves and is widely associated with remembrance. Throughout Europe and particularly Australia Rosemary sprigs are worn to remember the Great War. Sacred to the ancients, it bears a particular meaning for Australians as the bush grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
And finally ivy for the everlasting life.
Rupert Brooke spoke movingly in his poem “The Soldier” of England giving “her flowers to love”. How appropriate that we are celebrating this day in an explosion of floral expression.
His words are so apt for this day:
“If I should die think only this of me
There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England…
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less,
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds, dreams happy as her day,
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness
In hearts at peace, under an English Heaven.”
And so as we stand shoulder to shoulder on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 100 years on from when the guns fell silent, as our land falls silent in remembrance and hope and prayers for peace, let the flowers and leaves of England represent our thoughts and wishes on this momentous day.