The National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas is part of this year's Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal "Rethink Remembrance" campaign. Military historian Malcolm Goode looks at the background to the appeal.
To bring the Poppy Appeal to the notice of the British public, the Royal British Legion has used the well-known war poem “In Flanders Fields” in a new and imaginative way.
The poem was written in three verses, they have been broken down into seven parts. One of those sections or stanzas (the sixth one) is now written in poppies at the National Memorial Arboretum.
The other six sections of the poem can be seen on the Royal British Legion website and are situated at The Royal London Hospital, Chelsea, The Sage in Gateshead, The White Cliffs at Dover, on Dunkirk Beach, Cardiff Bay and Salford Quays in Manchester.
Certain questions arise from this initiative, the main ones being, where did this poem come from? and who wrote it?
Just to the north east of the Belgian town of Ypres was a casualty clearing station that we know to this day as the Essex Farm Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery.
A 22-year-old Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, had been blown up and killed by an enemy shell.
As comrades gathered up his remains for burial on May 2 1915, Captain John McCrae, a Canadian Army Doctor and a friend of Lieutenant Helmer, spoke over his grave.
Legend has it that on the following day, McCrae, while taking a break from endless hours of trying to save lives, sat and looked over the wooden crosses of his friends, a gentle breeze blew the red poppies growing around that growing collection of graves.
As he drank his tea he felt inspired to write a poem in his pocket notebook.
Within 20 minutes a witness said that he tore out the sheet form his book and threw it away and returned to his work.
A friend who had witnessed this picked up the discarded sheet. So impressed was he with the poem that McCrae had penned as he looked over the grave of his friend and all the others surrounding him, he sent the poem to London. The poem was eventually and anonymously published by Punch magazine in December 1915.
Soon, McCrae was given the credit for his poem and became famous. John McCrae's words were seen as a lament for sorrow and loss of war, not for glorification of it. They honoured not the slaughter but sacrifice, our humanity not inhumanity.
For millions of soldiers, from all sides on the Western Front, the poppy, a hardy species that thrives best on disturbed ground, was a glad sight, peeping defiantly through the mud and destruction.
McCrae’s final lines "If ye break faith with me. . ." These words captured the front line soldiers’ fear, that they would be forgotten once they were dead, and their suffering would be in vain, a mounting concern as the casualty list grew longer.
For men facing death in atrocious conditions, trodden into the mud as though they never even existed, McCrae's emotional verse created an emblem of remembrance, they could be confident would establish itself in the minds of those back home.
From then on the image of the corn poppy's fragile blood-red petals rooted itself in the psyche of the English speaking allies.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae did not live to see the remembrance poppy his words would inspire.
He fell victim of influenza and died of chronic pneumonia on January 28 1918 near Boulogne. His comrades searched for poppies to lay on his grave, due to the time of the year, there were none growing.
One of his friends had a wreath of poppies made from silk in Paris, the very first one of its kind.
A year or so after the armistice of 1918, his poem was printed all over the world, it was to become even more famous when an American lady by the name of Moina Michael read it in a copy of the Ladies Home Journal which also had a colour picture of ghostly soldiers, crosses and blood-red poppies, and she became enchanted by its message.
Moina wrote a poem as a response to McCrae's words. Moina Michael persuaded the National convention of the American League to adopt the poppy as token of remembrance.
The convention was attended by Madame Anne Guerin from France who was captivated by this token and symbol of remembering those who so recently gave their lives.
Anna Guerin took this message and ideas for remembrance back home to France, she had the idea that poppies would be made by war widows and the income from donations and sales would be used to help them to live on the income.
In 1921 Madame Guerin took her idea to London and to the newly formed British Legion formed by Field Marshall Earl Haig.
He was so touched by this idea that the poppy would be adopted for the very first remembrance service held on November 11 1921, at the Cenotaph at Whitehall London. The poppies would be exchanged for donations. They were made of silk and had a pin to fasten them onto the lapel, just as they still do today.
From all of those poppies made, an estimated nine million were purchased. Each poppy purchased by donation was accompanied by a printed copy of the poem "In Flanders Fields" .
Funds raised amounted to £106,000 which today would be worth approximately £4.5 million.
In 1922 it was estimated that 30 million silk poppies were sold, which were now made in England by wounded and disabled British soldiers, rather than French widows.
The sale of poppies were advertised widely, Earl Haig's message was "Buy poppies for remembrance sake".
The symbol is still with us today, through more wars since – as a potent image as ever. Not as a symbol of nationalistic fervour and bloodlust as some would believe, but a red badge of courage, sacrifice and grief.