Where Poppies Blow is the unique story of the British soldiers of the Great War and their relationship with the animals and plants around them. This connection was of profound importance, because it goes a long way to explaining why they fought, and how they found the will to go on.
At the most basic level, animals and birds provided interest to fill the blank hours in the trenches and billets – bird-watching, for instance, was probably the single most popular hobby among officers. But perhaps more importantly, the ability of nature to endure, despite the bullets and blood, gave men a psychological, spiritual, even religious uplift.
Animals and plants were also reminders of home. Aside from bird-watching, soldiers went fishing in village ponds and in flooded shell holes (for eels), they went bird nesting, they hunted foxes with hounds, they shot pheasants for the pot, and they planted flower gardens in the trenches and vegetable gardens in their billets.
It is in this elemental relationship between man and nature that some of the highest, noblest aspirations of humanity in times of war can be found.
John Lewis-Stempel is an award-winning writer best known for his books on history and nature. He lives in Herefordshire, on the very edge of England before it runs into Wales, and within a stone’s throw (with a decent gust of wind) from where his family farmed in the 1300s. His many books include the bestselling Six Weeks, The War Behind the Wire and Meadowland.