POPPY SEED FROM VILLERS BRETONNEUX, FRANCE
In January 1920, the director of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Joseph Henry Maiden, received a parcel from France, sent to him by Ettie Rout, Secretary of the New Zealand Volunteer Sisters. The box contained poppy seed gathered in the Somme Valley by the school children of Villers Bretonneux and came with a request that the seed be distributed to the relatives of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who had fallen fighting on the battlefields. The children wished to convey their deepest gratitude and loving sympathy to the families of those who had given their lives for France so far from their native land. Both the Melbourne and Christchurch Botanic Gardens also received seed from Miss Rout.
Joseph Maiden sent a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald writing “that I shall be very pleased indeed to send a tiny packet to the relatives of New South Wales soldiers in accordance with this lady’s wishes”. The letter was reprinted in a number of regional newspapers and written requests from all over the state began to flood in. The original supply of seed was soon exhausted, prompting Maiden to obtain a further shipment of seed gathered at the end of the following season, both from France and the area around Ypres in Belgium.
Joseph Maiden was a meticulous man, with a methodical mind and working habits. He kept registers of seeds and plants coming in and out of the Botanic Gardens, and it is from these registers that we have been able to extract the names of all those people who applied for and received poppy seeds to plant in their gardens in memory of their loved ones. There are no surviving records from either the Melbourne or Christchurch Botanic Gardens detailing how the seed they received was distributed. We are indeed fortunate that this touching tribute to the Anzacs has survived.
Volunteers at the Berrima District Historical & Family History Society have indexed all the names recorded in the Seed Registers and have begun the task of identifying the soldiers in whose name the families applied for poppy seed. The index is a word-searchable PDF document.
TO VIEW AND SEARCH THE INDEX CLICK HERE
We would like to extend special thanks to:
Angela Phippen, Local Studies Librarian, City of Ryde for bringing this volume to our attention
Miguel Garcia, Librarian at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney for permission to use the Seed Registers for this project.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
We have created an index listing the names and suburb or township recorded in the Botanic Gardens Seed Register. Our aim is to identify as many of those listed as possible and where we can obtain addresses, ask the current owners or occupants of these houses to again plant red poppies in the garden. Descendants may also wish to plant poppies in their current gardens in remembrance of their relatives and in recognition of the sentiment of the children of Villers Bretonneux who first collected the seed almost a century ago.
If you can assist in identifying any of those listed, please complete the contact form so we can include these details in the index.