Where Poppies Blow is the unique story of the British soldiers of the Great War and their relationship with the animals and plants around them. This connection was of profound importance, because it goes a long way to explaining why they fought, and how they found the will to go on.
At the most basic level, animals and birds provided interest to fill the blank hours in the trenches and billets – bird-watching, for instance, was probably the single most popular hobby among officers. But perhaps more importantly, the ability of nature to endure, despite the bullets and blood, gave men a psychological, spiritual, even religious uplift.
Animals and plants were also reminders of home. Aside from bird-watching, soldiers went fishing in village ponds and in flooded shell holes (for eels), they went bird nesting, they hunted foxes with hounds, they shot pheasants for the pot, and they planted flower gardens in the trenches and vegetable gardens in their billets.
It is in this elemental relationship between man and nature that some of the highest, noblest aspirations of humanity in times of war can be found.
John Lewis-Stempel is an award-winning writer predominantly known for his books on nature and history. He lives in Herefordshire, on the very edge of England before it runs into Wales, and within a stone's throw (with a decent gust of wind) from where his family farmed in the 1300s. His many books include the bestselling Six Weeks, The War Behind the Wire and Meadowland. His books have been published in languages as diverse as Brazilian Portuguese and Japanese, are available on all continents apart from Antarctica, and have sold more than a million copies. He has two degrees in history, writes books under the pen name Jon E. Lewis, is married with two children, and also farms.
"What makes Where Poppies Blow so freshly moving is the picture it paints of the reverence, love and kindness the natural world can engender, even in the most hellish conditions; as Philip Gosse of the Roayl Army Medical Corps called it, "medicine for the mind and solace for the soul"'
– Melissa Harrison, Financial Times
"[John Lewis-Stempel] manages what might have seemed impossible: to find a new perspective on the Great War"
– Mark Smith, Glasgow Herald
"Makes an important contribution to the literature by studying the British soldiers' relationship with Nature [...] Moving, strangely life-affirming"
– Clive Aslet, Country Life
"From traumatized, trench-bound British soldiers caught up in the carnage of the First World War, birdwatching and botany offered solace. So reveals John Lewis-Stempel in this riveting study drawing on verse, letters and field notes by men who served, from zoologist Dene Fry to poet Edward Thomas [...] A remarkable picture of a human bloodbath that took place amid phenomenally rich biodiversity"
"Deeply moving [...] I finished this book marvelling at nature's healing power"
– Jonathan Tulloch, The Tablet
"But natural history did not go into suspense while war was waged. Where Poppies Blow notes that many of the Edwardian boys who ended up on the Western Front still collected birds' eggs and butterflies"
– Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph
"In Where Poppies Blow, the nature writer, historian and farmer presents us with a beautiful and meticulous account of soldiers' relationship with nature [...] This book, which recounts the lives of our frontline soldiers from the ground up, is a truly wondrous and original work with an appeal far beyond military history."
– Charlotte Heathcote, Daily Express Christmas Books
"One of the best nature writers to have come along in many years, John Lewis-Stempel turns his attention here to the relationship between soldiers and nature on the Western Front during WW1"
– John Preston, Daily Mail Christmas Books