New Wordsworth House Exhibition Chronicles The Battle For Nature

Cockermouth’s Wordsworth House and Garden reopens for 2018 on Saturday 10 March with a powerful new exhibition marking 100 years since the end of the First World War – and a free weekend for locals.

Where Poppies Blow: the British soldier, nature and the Great War celebrates the role of the natural world in helping sustain our troops through the horrors of battle.

Zoe Gilbert, the house’s visitor experience manager, said: “As the birthplace 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 the discomfort of living too close to nature.

In the years after the war, Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, Great Gable and 11 other Lakeland summits were gifted to the National Trust. They became a unique memorial to those who lost their lives in the conflict. These gifts were some of the largest donations the Trust had received at the time and are the reason people can walk the mountains freely today.

John, who won the 2017 Wainwright Golden Beer Prize for nature writing, said: “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.”

A first set of evocative exhibits, including the original manuscript of Edward Thomas’s iconic poem Adlestrop, paintings by artist brothers Paul and John Nash, both commissioned as official war artists during WWI, and digital artworks by renowned graphic novelist Dave McKean, will be on display until Sunday 8 July.

A second set of exhibits will go on show from Monday 16 July to Sunday 28 October, among them Edward Thomas’s war diary, its pages bearing an eerie arc of creases created by the shell blast that killed him.

Entry to the exhibition is free with admission to the house and garden. Locals taking proof of their CA postcode can enjoy a free visit to the house, garden and exhibition on Saturday 10 or Sunday 11 March.

A British soldier holds a pet magpie. A British soldier holds a pet magpie. Picture: Imperial War Museum
One of the butterflies collected by Soldiers in no man's land Soldiers collected butterflies in no man’s land. Picture: Vazrick Navari, The Canadian National Collection