At the heart of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) this month, a wild poppy meadow stands as a poignant and transitory memorial to those who fought and died in World War One. Marking the centenary of Britain’s entry into the conflict, RBGE has created the display as a place of reflection, where visitors can pause and remember those from around the world who fell then and in subsequent wars. At the same time, it is appealing UK-wide for help in discovering more about its own men who fell in the field.
The colourful memorial planting – to the west of the Glasshouse Lawn - is a direct act of public commemoration to the Garden’s 73 men who signed-up after war was declared in August 1914, 20 of whom would fall in action. It is drawing passing members of the public whose attention is captured by the display featuring swathes of Papaver rhoeas , or common poppy, the Commonwealth symbol of remembrance.
Commenting on the importance of creating an opportunity for remembrance, RBGE Regius Keeper Simon Milne MBE said: “Plant symbolism is an integral part of cultures around the globe. It is, therefore, fitting that at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh: the heart of Scotland’s plant heritage, we mark the anniversary of the start of World War One. It is also important that we provide an opportunity for our visitors from all over the world to pause and reflect both on the 16 million people who lost their lives in that war and the ongoing impact of conflict on the lives of ordinary people today.”
While the Garden already holds a lasting memorial to the staff who served in the Great War, it is taking the opportunity of the anniversary to launch an appeal UK-wide for more information: “At the outbreak of the Great War, the Garden had 110 staff. Of the 88 male employees, 73 joined the forces and 20 lost their lives in action”, explained Archivist, Leonie Paterson. “The RBGE Library already holds the War Service Roll, published in 1921 to ‘preserve for all time the story of the loyalty of our Garden Staff’ and there is a memorial plaque. However, we hope to enhance our knowledge by gathering more information about the men from the Garden who went to war.
“As a result, we are appealing to people around Britain who believe members of their families could have been among our staff numbers who went to war, or who came here to work in their place. Any further details we can collect would be a welcome addition to our Archives and would provide us with a deeper understanding of the Garden’s own First World War story.”