As the World War I chapter closes we must sow the poppy seed for future generations
This week the last known surviving service member of World War I, Florence Green from Norfolk, passed away aged 110. In 1918, aged just 17, Florence joined the Women’s Royal Air Force and worked as a mess steward at two RAF stations.
Her death, coming less than a year after that of British-born Claude Choules, the world’s last known combat veteran of World War I, means we can no longer engage with and hear at first-hand the accounts of those who were part of the Armed Forces during one of the most devastating conflicts in history. Florence didn’t serve at the ‘sharp end’ of the Forces, but she was part of the wider Armed Forces’ effort. She was a witness to a period of huge upheaval, uncertainty and for many, tragedy, a terrible mix of waste and sorrow, yet often achievement too. We all tend to witness the noble and ignoble aspects of human nature at points during our lives, but her generation – and that of the Second World War – perhaps did so more widely and starkly than most in succeeding generations.
One of our most important historic chapters has closed with the passing of a remarkable generation of people with fascinating stories to tell. The poppy ensures that they won’t be forgotten. Our organisation was created to provide practical support to those damaged in body and mind by their wartime service and to desperate and destitute families of the dead and wounded. Almost a full century on since the outbreak of World War I, lives are still being destroyed by war; and our work continues unchecked. The numbers we seek to help today may not, thankfully, be on the scale of the First World War, but that doesn’t make things any easier for those affected. There have been many conflicts since the World Wars – too many to list – but each one has made a mark on history, as well on as the lives of those who fought and their families. We have been there throughout. We will continue to be there for as long as we are needed.
As well as the practical support we provide, a big part of our work is educating Scotland’s young people about remembrance. In 2008 we launched an education project, Sowing the Poppy Seed, to help school pupils understand and learn about remembrance. Up until then, some schools had carried out lessons on remembrance but it was not part of the curriculum; awareness varied very greatly from school to school. A survey carried out by The Royal British Legion in 2006 showed that many young people in Scotland were confused about the history behind Remembrance traditions, with 75% having no idea what the abbreviation ‘VE Day’ stood for.
Over the past four years every school in Scotland has been given access to Sowing the Poppy Seed. Learning materials have been produced with an emphasis on online content to make the project comprehensive, accessible and engaging for teachers and pupils. It has been received with much enthusiasm and the feedback from schools has been extremely positive.
We are the beginning of a long journey to ensure that future generations will understand and remember, now that the Great War generation has finally passed in full. We must instil a belief in the importance of remembrance amongst Scotland’s school pupils so that when they reach adulthood they pass it on to future generations, ensuring that people like Florence, with their memories and stories, are never forgotten. It’s a vital task, one we are very privileged to undertake.