Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, the Great War (Paperback)John Lewis-Stempel (author)
A thoroughly beguiling combination of history and nature writing, Lewis-Stempel’s profoundly moving book details First World War soldiers’ relationships with the nature of the trenches and how hobbies such as birdwatching, eel fishing and flower planting helped to lift morale and preserve memories of home.
Winner of the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2017
The natural history of the Western Front during the First World War by the author of Meadowland, winner of the 2015 Wainwright Prize
There was no escape from nature a century ago. In the trenches, soldiers actually habited the bowels of the earth, in direct and myriad contact with all flora and fauna of Flanders and the Somme. Nature was all around, in every one of Its/His/Her guises. There could only be heightened awareness of nature when at war.
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.
‘What makes Where Poppies Blow so freshly moving is the picture it paints of the reverence, love and kindness the natural world can engender, even in the most hellish conditions’ – The FT
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Number of pages: 400
Weight: 240 g
Dimensions: 196 x 128 x 30 mm
'What makes Where Poppies Blow so freshly moving is the picture it paints of the reverence, love and kindness the natural world can engender, even in the most hellish conditions; as Philip Gosse of the Royal Army Medical Corps called it, "medicine for the mind and solace for the soul"' - Melissa Harrison, Financial Times
'In Where Poppies Blow, the nature writer, historian and farmer presents us with a beautiful and meticulous account of soldiers' relationship with nature . . . This book, which recounts the lives of our frontline soldiers from the ground up, is a truly wondrous and original work with an appeal far beyond military history' - Charlotte Heathcote, Daily Express Christmas Books
'Wonderful, beautifully written and often deeply moving' - Lawrence James, The Times
'Makes an important contribution to the literature by studying the British soldiers' relationship with Nature . . . Moving, strangely life-affirming' - Clive Aslet, Country Life
'Manages what might have seemed impossible: to find a new perspective on the Great War' - Mark Smith, Glasgow Herald
'From traumatized, trench-bound British soldiers caught up in the carnage of the First World War, birdwatching and botany offered solace. So reveals John Lewis-Stempel in this riveting study drawing on verse, letters and field notes by men who served, from zoologist Dene Fry to poet Edward Thomas . . . A remarkable picture of a human bloodbath that took place amid phenomenally rich biodiversity' - Nature
'Deeply moving . . . I finished this book marvelling at nature's healing power' - Jonathan Tulloch, The Tablet
'But natural history did not go into suspense while war was waged. Where Poppies Blow notes that many of the Edwardian boys who ended up on the Western Front still collected birds' eggs and butterflies' - Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph
'Memorable' - Spectator
'One of the best nature writers to have come along in many years, John Lewis-Stempel turns his attention here to the relationship between soldiers and nature on the Western Front during the First World War' - John Preston, Daily Mail Christmas Books
'Nature writer and military historian John Lewis-Stempel has created a eulogy to the flora and fauna that helped men soldier on during the First World War . . . Where Poppies Blow is full of fascinating (sometimes heart-wrenching) information about the role of nature and animals in this brutal war' - Rachel Stiles, BBC Countryfile
'This charming book reminds us that flora and fauna weren't suspended by the First World War' - 5 stars - The Daily Telegraph
Unmissable...John Lewis Stempel is both a working farmer and a prizewinnig author. In early July, i heard him speak on first world war soldiers and their love of flowers and animals. I went straight off and read his excellent book, Where Poppies Blow, and I defy you not to be moved by its chapters on flowers and dogs. - Robin Lane Fox, FINANCIAL TIMES
Shows how important birdwatching was to officers in particular, and how this in turn fed back into post-war ornithology. It's an enthralling, and often moving, read, that sets the study and enjoyment of wildlife in a much wider context. - BIRD WATCHING
Ultimately, the depth and power of Where Poppies Blow is impossible to convey. It eludes review, but it begs to be read. - John Andrews, CAUGHT BY THE RIVER
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“A fascinating and unusual take on a familiar subject...”
Where the Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel is a book that looks at the relationship between nature and British soldiers serving on the frontline in World War 1.
It is an immensely interesting angle to take, in... More
“Remarkable. Beautifully told. ”
To be invited along to see the announcement of the winning book/author in this year’s Wainwrights Golden Beer Book Prize held at Blenheim Palace during Countryfile Live was a real honour. I was privileged to meet most... More
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