Where Poppies Blow: a moving exhibition at Wordsworth House

Poppies growing in a field

Where Poppies Blow at Wordsworth House and Garden commemorates the end of the First World War and celebrates the role of nature in helping sustain Britain’s soldiers through the horrors of battle.

New exhibits for the second half of its run include poet Edward Thomas’s war diary, its pages bearing an eerie arc of creases created by the shell blast that killed him.

The original handwritten manuscripts of Thomas’s poems As the Team’s Head Brass, The Trumpet and Blenheim Oranges are on display, along with his typescripts of Digging and October.

There are also paintings by artist brothers Paul and John Nash.

Wordsworth House's visitor experience manager, Zoe Gilbert, said: ‘As the home of one of the world’s best-loved nature poets, we’re thrilled to be showcasing this evocative exhibition guest curated by historian, farmer and prize-winning author John Lewis-Stempel.’

Where Poppies Blow reveals the importance of the British countryside and sense of place as an incentive for men to join up, the solace that nature and gardening provided in the trenches and on active service, the discomfort of living too close to nature, and the changes to farming methods caused by the need for mass production, which have such an impact on our natural environment to this day.

A First World War soldier in a trench with a pet magpie
A First World War soldier in a trench holds a magpie
A First World War soldier in a trench with a pet magpie

Fighting for nature

John, winner of the 2017 Wainwright Golden Beer Prize for nature writing, explained: ‘Nature mattered in the Great War. Tens of thousands went to war for the fields, the flowers, the birds of Britain.

‘On active service abroad, soldiers lived in trenches, inside the ground, closer to nature than most humans had lived for centuries. Soldiers planted flower gardens, birdwatched and fished flooded shell-holes for eels. Nature was also a curse – rats and lice abounded at the front.  

‘Above all, the wonders and comforts of nature helped men endure the bullets and the blood. As one soldier of the Great War put it, “If it weren’t for the birds, what a hell it would be”. This is the unique story of the British soldiers of the Great War, and their relationships with the animals and plants around them.’ 

Where Poppies Blow is open daily, except Friday, until Sunday 28 October. Entry is free with admission to the house and garden.

The Great Gift

In the years after the war, Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, plus Great Gable, Castle Crag and 11 other Lakeland summits were gifted to the National Trust.

Discover how the extraordinary Great Gift created England’s highest war memorial to the fallen of 1914-18 – and how you can get involved in the commemoration celebrations.

Farmer, historian and award-winning writer John Lewis-Stempel is guest curator of Where Poppies Blow
A man in a blue jacket sitting in front of a woven fence
Farmer, historian and award-winning writer John Lewis-Stempel is guest curator of Where Poppies Blow